Mass transit legislation moves forward in House with more changes

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The mass transit bill cleared another major hurdle Wednesday at the Statehouse, where it seems mass transit may have its best chance yet of passing.

Mayor Greg Ballard, R-Indianapolis, spoke to members of the House transportation committee, speaking in favor the legislation. The bill would allow several local counties to put a levy on the ballot that would help pay for better mass transit.

“Strong regional transit will put our area in the best position to attract new jobs, new residents and keep those that already call this place home,” said Mayor Ballard.

Bus riders also testified, telling lawmakers they needed better bus service.

“Many of you up here are blessed are able to drive and get from point A to point B,” said Greg Meyer, who is legally blind. “Enhanced transportation allows me freedom. It allows me to go to the grocery store, if I get better transit.”

“We think it’s time to stop talking about transit planning and time to start implementing a transit plan and to that end we encourage you to vote yes,” said Indy Chamber vice president Mark Fisher.

In the end, committee members did vote to advance the legislation, 11-1, but not before making some changes.

They added Hendricks County to the bill, and dropped a provision which forced local businesses to pay for ten percent of the plan. Bus fares would also help pay for the upgrade, and some worry that will mean higher bus fares, while others worry about paying more in taxes.

“It’s allowing a local option to use a tax they can already collect for one more purpose than they can now, so I don’t view it as a tax increase at all,” said state Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, the bill’s sponsor.

SB 176 will now head to the full House for its approval, but it could also be heard in the House Ways and Means committee first. The bill already passed the Senate, where lawmakers added a provision that would prohibit light rail from being used as part of the upgrade.