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Transportation Innovation Academy aims to help Indy go further, faster on transit

Posted by ehayden on May 26, 2015

Last week, Indianapolis welcomed a group of national thought leaders and delegations from Nashville, Tennessee and Raleigh, North Carolina to talk about one of the Indy Chamber’s top economic and workforce development priorities – mass transit.  

The group came to Indy for the latest session of the Transportation Innovation Academy, a new partnership between Transportation for America and TransitCenter focused on building momentum for regional transit initiatives.  Indianapolis is part of the first ‘class’ of the Academy, recruiting local business and civic leaders along with our peers from Nashville and Raleigh to get more engaged, informed, and prepared to make the case for transit.

The expertise offered by these national research and advocacy organizations helps solidify what’s already a compelling call to action on transit – one that’s familiar to our business community.

The Indy Chamber has been an early champion of transit, first answering the call from our members for reliable, accessible transportation for their employees.  As our region has grown, so has the distance between where people live and where they work.  The typical Indy metro resident has fewer jobs within their average commute than they did a decade ago, according to an analysis of Census data by the Brookings Institution, and they’ve seen their daily drives grow (in miles and minutes stuck in traffic).  

The same trend has created more dire circumstances for many low-income families, especially those without a dependable car (or a car at all).  The exodus of jobs and investment from many inner-city areas have created ‘employment deserts’ around urban neighborhoods – their residents have 25% fewer jobs within a commute-friendly distance of their homes. 

This limits the hiring pool for many employers, and forces them to bear higher costs of tardiness, absenteeism and lost productivity.  Without a regional system, workers in Marion County who rely on public transportation find themselves largely cut off from job opportunities in the suburbs.  Within the city, IndyGo has made great strides with limited resources – but two-hour bus rides for what would be a 20-minute drive still aren’t uncommon.

Beyond the challenge of connecting the current workforce with jobs, transit is a quality of life priority for young, educated workers – survey after survey (like this one by the Rockefeller Foundation) show that Millenial workers want to be less reliant on cars, and value the convenience of transit when choosing where to live and work.  By attracting talent, we attract businesses that thrive on innovation, creativity and advanced scientific and technological skills – people are the priority in the 21st century business climate.

For these reasons and more, regional transit has risen towards the top of the Indy Chamber’s agenda – and participating in initiatives like the Transportation Innovation Academy only strengthen our resolve.  We are confident that an expanded regional transit system – like the one envisioned in the Indy Connect plan – is the right direction for Indianapolis. 

Indy doesn’t exist in a vacuum: Other regions are already using transit with great success to get people to work, revitalize urban neighborhoods and establish a quality of life that appeals to skilled professionals and the economic opportunities that follow them.

These are the communities we’re competing with, for “brains, bucks and business,” and as we delay action on transit, we only fall further behind.  In Salt Lake City, for example, policymakers credit a newly-completed extension of the region’s light rail system with high-tech corporate growth and tens of thousands of new housing units planned around the lines, with a recent study quantifying $2 in economic output for every dollar invested in public transportation.

The need for expanded transit options in our region is ever growing and our resolve to take action is strong.  The Transportation Innovation Academy comes to Indy at an exciting time.  Planning for the 28-mile Red Line is well underway, as local officials ready proposals for federal grants to help build the nation’s first electric-powered bus rapid transit route.  The new Downtown Transit Center will act as an attractive modern hub for the city’s bus system – and soon, for the region’s transit network.  IndyGo continues to realign and enhance service with its new IndyGoForward strategy.

We’re pushing to build on this success at the ballot box, with the possibility of public referenda on the Indy Connect plan in 2016.

Indy was chosen among the first regions to participate in the Transportation Innovation Academy because our partners at Transportation for America and TransitCenter believe we’re poised to make continued, significant progress expanding transportation options and economic opportunities.  We agree, and it’s appropriate that the Academy came to Indianapolis during the month of May – the finish line is in sight, and we aspire to go even faster.

 

By: Mark Fisher, VP Government Relations, Indy Chamber