No one cares what millennials think, so stop saying they do

Kelly Hannon at NUVO has a letter to the editor wherein she talks about the ridiculousness of Indianapolis’ transportation network. It fills in a lot of the same talking points we’ve been hearing from the Indy Chamber and others about the need for more and better transit options in Indianapolis.

I find them to be pretty weak. Which has me concerned, because this is starting to appear and sound incredibly one-sided.

Here’s Kelly:

Currently, only 33 percent of jobs in Indianapolis can be reached via transit in 90 minutes. That’s ridiculous. It’s also ridiculous that the wait time to get on one of these buses for a 90-minute trip can be between 30-60 minutes. And what happens if you have to transfer, and the second bus is behind? Or it has already left? If you currently get around this city in your car, I ask you this: use Google maps and find out what your commute would be to work, or to your favorite spot across town, if you had to use IndyGo mass transit. I did.

I don’t dispute the numbers, and she’s not wrong about transfer times. I’ve learned the quirks of the system enough myself to know when a transfer is even remotely feasible. It’s usually easy if you’re heading someplace within a few miles of Downtown. Not so much if you’re heading out to the fringes of town. But it’s clear Kelly owns a car here, which is important. She doesn’t mention where she lives around town, either, even generally, so it’s hard to make a lot of judgments here.

Like I’ve always said: people who live in rural areas know what they’re signing up for. A lot of that goes for people building a home outside 465.

The fact is, getting around the city of Indianapolis is a privilege, and not a right. Our current system in inequitable. There are too many people in this city held back from employment opportunities, educational opportunities, as well as social services, health clinics, and grocery stores simply because our city has not invested in creating a transportation system that serves all.

Alright, you lost me. First, driving isn’t a right, either. Car ownership isn’t a right. This isn’t a fact at all. You just made that up. No one owes you or me anything. I do believe that reliable and efficient transportation can be the sort of “hand up, not a hand out” that drives a lot of our political discourse in 2016. I’ll never fault anyone for trying to get to work. But don’t call it a right or privilege. By this rationale, everyone is owed a bike share station near them, too. We have rights listed in the Constitution and that is it. What you’re talking about is a nice-to-have.

Kelly talks about upward mobility in Indianapolis, and it is true Indianapolis does not do well in regards to upward mobility. But much of the research on upward mobility point to problems in education, largely K-12 schools, as the bulk of the problem. That’s a complicated and multi-faceted issue. Transit is a small part of it, in that a parent could possibly earn more money through enhanced job access, or save money through reduced private vehicle expenditures, that can then be spent on a child. Doesn’t mean it will, and there are a lot of extra hand-waves involved. People have to be empowered to move around and be effectual, too.

I am tired of hearing the ol’ pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps ideology when it comes to getting jobs in this city. When it comes to opportunity, there is no hiding the fact this system continues to perpetuate the imbalance of power between the wealthy, white, and/or able-bodied population and the poor, of color, and/or disabled communities. For it to take an average of over 90 minutes to get to 67 percent of the jobs in the area is a leading reason why Indianapolis’s upward mobility ranking is so low. I am tired of hearing those who are unemployed be blamed for not trying hard enough, when in actuality, they are running a completely different race than those of us with the privilege and funds that allow us to own a personal vehicle.

Here’s where you run into a problem. A big problem. By saying you’re tired of getting people to “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps”, you’re saying you have a problem with conservative principles. And it’s awfully hard for any electoral math to work in your favor, especially in Indiana, when you discount at least 50, and in the case of Indiana, about 60% of the voting public. Even if you say this is just a Marion County issue where there’s a majority of Democrat voters, this ultimately has to go into the suburbs to be effective with all the job access, particularly in the low-skill labor we’re talking about here.

And that’s the other half of this big problem: it’s clear Kelly owns a car and drives it regularly. That she’s never ridden a bus before, or so it reads. That’s her privilege and a choice. Because she could choose to do without. But she doesn’t because current options aren’t good enough for her. And that’s quite a slight to the people she’s championing. And it furthers this awful branding that our transit system has: it’s a service to the poor. A welfare mechanism. Whereas in other cities they treat buses and transit like a piece of infrastructure, no different than a bridge. For all the people claiming we need to be like other cities, perhaps the first step is to stop being unlike other cities and shift your cultural connotations about who uses a bus and why.

And to add to my earlier comment about disregarding conservatives in this context: every voter has a vote-moving issue. If you’ve ever wondered why your union-dues paying uncle votes Republican, perhaps it’s because he really loves to hunt and his gun ownership is his vote-moving issue. All else be damned. For some it’s their ability to homeschool, gay marriage rights, abortion, or any number of other issues.

Locally, a person’s vote-moving issue in transit is likely to be: “Can I benefit from this directly?” If we keep promoting this idea that the current system is only for icky welfare types, don’t be surprised when they vote against it. If we keep promoting this idea that “it’s what millennials want”, don’t be surprised when everyone else over the age of 35 says “Screw them” and vote against it. If we keep promoting this idea that transit is what business wants, don’t be surprised when a bunch of people say, “I’m not a business, screw them, they can pay for it” and vote against it.

These are all vote-moving issues. The environment may be one for another block of people, but not a lot of people.

Years of marketing work has taught me one thing: people want to see themselves and see their own benefits. The easy, low-hanging fruit is, “You won’t have to spend money on a car.” Because in the US the regulations we have on cars make it impossible to build a new, reliable, car that’s under, say, $5,000. It can’t be done. Regulations add $7,000 to the cost of a new car alone. Some of this is for safety features. But did you know the US now requires all new cars to have back-up cameras? I’d gladly trade a lot of “features” like that for a dry box with wheels where I can just turn my head around and look behind me. I bet a lot of other people would, too. That leaves used cars, which I find a waste of money. For $5,000 a used car is just going to fall apart in a year or two, or be somewhat unreliable in short order. Thus, it’s all a waste of my money and I don’t want to spend it. That’s my vote-moving issue and choice.

I’d rather spend the extra $20 a month IndyGo is after in taxes (plus fares) on a robust transit network than $250 a month, or likely more, on a car. That’s just good math. And, I think, the one vote-moving issue that most people are likely to warm up to. It’s also the one getting the least play.

No one gives a crap about what millennials want or think. No one owes anything to anyone. But I do like to take care of myself, and so does everyone else.

Don’t discount the value of the conservative notion of helping people get to work AND the ability to reduce overall budget expenditures for ever-widening roads and highways AND the ability to give people a real option to increase their household earnings through efficiency and savings. That’s a perk, not a right. And it’s a perk that most people can be comfortable with and support.

One Comment

  1. I think you horribly misread the right vs privilege thing. I think she is saying that being able to easily move around the city is a privilege right now. You can only do so if you are wealthy enough to afford a reliable car. She would prefer being able to get around Indy easily be considered a right, regardless of your ability to afford (or, heck, be physically able to drive) a car.

    As for those outside of 465, yes they know exactly what they signed up for: heavily subsidized urban freeways that slice through impoverished minority neighborhoods. Take away their cushy commutes and maybe they would use the land around Indy in a more efficient way so transit could be a no-brainer.

    I just think most of this rant was way off-base.

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