Local and state officials ride a new Citilink bus around downtown Thursday during Legislative Transportation Day.

In advance of next year’s budget session at the Statehouse, Citilink is already calling for increased public transportation funding.

After a brief presentation Thursday morning, Citilink General Manager and CEO John Metzinger and a few local and state officials rode a new bus through downtown Fort Wayne during Citilink’s Legislative Transportation Day.

“While local revenue and federal revenue has grown, the state revenue that Citilink receives hasn’t grown in 10 years,” Metzinger said. “We’re hoping to bring the community together to advocate, at some point, for additional state funding.”

For the last decade, the state has allocated about $40 million each year, state Sen. Dennis Kruse said. Prior to that, funding was tied to the state sales tax.

“I’ve been an advocate for increasing funding for Citilink for years – well, for all my 18 years in the Senate,” Kruse said. “For some reason, we can’t get state leaders to buy into increasing the budget for busing in Indiana at all, basically.”

The Auburn Republican, who is retiring at the end of this year, was the only state representative who attended the event, although Metzinger said he invited the area’s entire Statehouse delegation.

Kruse was joined by two Democratic members of Fort Wayne City Council – Geoff Paddock and Michelle Chambers – as well as representatives for U.S. Republican Sens. Mike Braun and Todd Young.

Paddock mentioned Citilink’s new van pool program, which the City Council preliminarily approved during a meeting Tuesday, and said the city has been “picking up the slack for a long time” in funding the corporation.

“When the state and federal sources go away,” Paddock said, “we roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

Metzinger said Citilink doesn’t have the money necessary to expand its service but that additional funding could allow it to expand “some day in the future.”

Citilink partnered with AARP for the event, and Metzinger highlighted the benefits of public transit for older residents.

He noted AARP estimates a quarter of all drivers in the U.S. will be older than 65 by 2025 and that 600,000 older adults stop driving each year.

That can have a negative impact on their physical and mental health, Metzinger said, something that could be exacerbated in Fort Wayne because of the city’s “expansive suburban growth and funding limitations.”

Although Kruse won’t be in the Statehouse next year to vote on the budget, he called for more funding for public transportation to help people who can’t – or don’t want to – drive.

“We need to increase that substantially, I think, even to $50 (million), $60 (million), $70 million,” Kruse said. “More people are aging – I’m one of them. I want to drive less and less the older I get, so bus transportation is a good alternative, as well as trains.”

Statehouse and General Assignment Reporter

Brett Stover is a Reporter covering the Indiana Statehouse and general assignments for The Journal Gazette. A University of Missouri graduate, Stover has covered news in Indiana since 2021.