Dogs

The one thing I miss the most about living on the northwest side of Indianapolis is the close proximity to the Indianapolis Humane Society. For the year I lived up that way I’d routinely volunteer my time with the dogs. Jeremiah would donate some of his time to sitting with the cats. As you can imagine, the dogs are way more fun.

I’d help people check out the dogs, take them out for walks, introduce people to the kinds of dogs they might be describing an interest in (“small”, “short hair”, and “good with kids” was always top of the list). It was always great walking a dog up to the adoption desks with a family.

Here at the house we’re clear on the other side of town and closer to Indianapolis Animal Care than the Humane Society. But Animal Care might as well be on the moon with its clumsy location behind the trash incinerator, the electrical plant, and miles of industrial parks. So I don’t really get to volunteer anywhere now.

Jeremiah and I adopted Ares at Indianapolis Animal Care. He was marked with a relatively lackluster tag that said “Seems friendly, tail wags a lot. Stray, found: Washington and Lynhurst”. He had only been there for a couple weeks.

If you’ve never been to Indianapolis Animal Care, it can be reasonably described as the saddest place in Indianapolis.

The staff there is great. They have volunteers, but nowhere near the army the Humane Society or other shelters have, mostly because of their obscure location. The facilities are adequate. I wouldn’t call them dilapidated or embarrassing like I would IMPD Mounted Patrol’s horse facilities.

The sadness comes from the sheer lack of energy from so many of the dogs. Normally you’d walk through a room full of dogs in kennels and you’d expect them to stand up, jump around, walk, bark, or otherwise be interested in you. Not at Indianapolis Animal Care. Many of them didn’t even turn their head, let alone stand up. Some had been there for months. Because IAC is the tax-funded shelter of first and often last resort, with no ability to turn away anyone or any animal like other shelters, there’s an invisible death clock hanging over the place. They do a good job of working with other no-kill shelters in the state when that deathclock nears midnight, but there’s only so much space.

They routinely divide the open shelter area into two chunks. “Dogs with contagious kennel cough off the left. Those without on the right.” This is about like taking an elementary school classroom and having kids with the flu on the left and the kids without on the right. You can imagine how well that would work.

So when anyone asks me, “Where should I get a dog?” I can’t speak forcefully enough that the answer is: “Anywhere, but you should go to IAC.” Even if you live in a surrounding county, pay the extra few dollars to adopt from IAC.

We’ve had Ares for a couple years now. This weekend as Jeremiah was plucking things out of his garden, another dog wandered up. No tags, looking very thin, and in need of flea treatments and a bath, he seemed to take quickly to Ares in the driveway.

Now we seem to have another dog. We’ve done due diligence in reporting him on Nextdoor and IndyLostPetAlert.com. We had him checked for chips. Sunday was spent at FACE – another place that’s doing more good than you could ever hope to report – to get him checked out.

I didn’t particularly want another dog. But there are just two options and one of them is taking him to IAC. He’d likely get adopted given his size and demeanor. But Indiana rarely ranks high on any “good” list of anything. This is no exception. 125,000 animals a year end up in shelters in Indiana, not even counting rural areas where people just do whatever with who knows what. 40% per are euthanized. 8,000 animals a year are put down in Marion County alone. Interestingly, of all the things we can’t get legislators to agree on, we got one: House Bill 1201 was signed by the Governor this year, requiring all dogs and cats to be spayed or neutered statewide. We’re 30th to do so.  It passed unanimously. Of course, those laws rarely work anyway.

Apparently if you find a dog in Indianapolis, you have to turn it into Animal Care. It’s up to them what happens next. This makes the libertarian side of me vibrate as it assumes no one could possibly do something better and cheaper like just taking care of it.

So you can see my dilemma here. And why there’s now a dog that likes to sleep under the blankets, enjoys chicken, bounces up and down when you walk into a room, and lazily sunbathes around the house.

I guess we need a name. Any suggestions?

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Thoughts on actual usage of Indy’s new transit center

There’s been a lot of positive press coverage of Indianapolis’ new transit center. Operated by IndyGo, it replaces the obvious lack of such a facility. In the bad old days of last week, everyone just stood around along various stops on Ohio Street.

There’s a lot of talk about the architecture, how slick it looks, and how it’ll be a positive asset for Indianapolis. Those things may all be true. I even kinda like that it sorta resembles a bus, because it’s subtle and almost like a secret. But like a lot of subjective things, there are other opinions. Plus, a lot of the press coverage hasn’t actually talked about what it’s like using the darn thing. It’s like a new restaurant opened, everyone reported on it, but didn’t bother to eat the food.

For all the talk about how this is a win for the city, let’s talk about the losers. Government projects can’t be done without making losers.

  1. At the opening ceremony, Congressman Carson said his grandmother, Julia Carson, whom the Center is named after, “…got the money [for the Center] through an old-fashioned legislative amendment.” In other words, pork. He added, “I wish we could still do that sometimes.” Depending on your views of paper clipped legislation, the losers here are either “everyone else in the country” or “everyone in the country”.
  2. The Center has a clear neighbor: the Marion County Jail. I’ve overhead many passengers this week noting the proximity of the jail and noting obvious jokes to just driving people straight into a cell. In all likelihood, however, the jail won’t be there forever.
  3. We all now have an extra building to support, despite the fact that Union Station is also still being maintained as a transfer point for Greyhound and some others. I get that IndyGo needed more space, but it sucks having such a great old building fall apart with no clear use.
  4. For anyone who lives on the south side and actually took the bus downtown to work, this is a clear loss. You come in on the southeast side and southern buses largely don’t go any further. And because the southeast corner of Downtown includes such attractions as the jail, bond offices, and parking garages, your commute just got longer, more expensive, or both to actually reach useful places. North side commuters, like everything else north-side oriented, still get a win. Their busses still travel through much of Downtown to get to the Center.

And the winners:

  1. People who do consistently transfer to the same bus every day. The woman who gets on in Fountain Square and travels downtown to catch the 24 to the southwest side is a winner.
  2. IndyGo, for being able to nudge more people into buying more trips and more expensive passes to cover that last 1-2 miles for users. This is likely a sore point for anyone who works or goes to the Government Center, IUPUI, One America, some Salesforce properties, and anything north of Ohio Street or west of Meridian at a minimum. Which is to say “most people who work Downtown”.

You can imagine where I am in this. I’m a loser, because it increasingly seems every time someone suggests an idea for route changes mine gets worse and worse. My 14 is now shorter, but the timing isn’t saved much for travel time it seems. Instead of moving around the streets of Downtown for 15 minutes I sit at the transit center for 10 minutes. And again along the route path 1-3 times because the bus runs too early too fast. Which makes it feel slower.

I also get the loss of being further away from my office (10th and Capitol). On a rainy or bad-weather day this almost guarantees I have to spend more on fares when I otherwise didn’t. The walk is now 10 minutes longer.

Kudos to IndyGo for having the thought of offering free rides this week. That likely cut down on a lot of upset users who haven’t quite realized the sting of being further away from things.

But let’s talk about the thing that really grinds my gears: the Center is incredibly pedestrian-hostile. The rain gardens are a good idea, but are at least 2-3 feet below street level. The Cultural Trail has some of these, but aren’t as deep. I have to imagine people falling into those things.

And then there’s the crosswalks.

See, you can’t make a facility super pedestrian-friendly when you have large metal boxes rolling around it. So if you get off a bus that pulls into one end of the facility, and you see the bus you want to take on the other, you have to walk the distance of half a block or two to get to it, lest someone scolds you like a child for not using the crosswalks. It makes me cringe every time.

Pedestrians will always take the shortest, most-direct path. Always. The Transit Center doesn’t facilitate either of those things unless you’re extremely lucky to park next to the right door. Once the volunteers and staff leave the Center, it’s going to be the wild west of people walking in the shortest paths possible to get where they need to be and roam around. Because that’s what pedestrians do, particularly when they have to get to work or meet a timeline. That’s what the staff does.

I can’t find the logic in how buses are organized, and while I imagine there is one, it’s not as easy as numerical ordering or direction they intend to travel. Which means it’s not intuitive.

And that’s if you can actually see the bus you want. Because the bay letters are small, and the display screens are small and hard to see in bright sunlight. You can’t see what’s down the platforms. The Center forces you into walking around aimlessly to find what you’re after or to quickly get into a routine and stick to it despite there being other options.

To give you an example of what this would feel like, imagine you’re standing on the Circle. You’re right by the South Bend Chocolate Factory. You see Starbucks to your right and want to go straight there. But you aren’t allowed to. You have to walk ¾ the way around backwards. That’s what the Transit Center feels like.

As another example, I got off my bus this week and stepped on to the platform. I know I have four options for getting up Illinois Street: routes 4, 18, 25, or 28. Or, I can take Meridian street buses 19, 38, or 39 and be a block further away. I just don’t know where those buses park, and no one’s bothered to publish a map so I can do my homework.

So I get off the 14 and I know I have mere minutes to find one of those other buses. The 28 is all the way at the end. I walk fast. I don’t make it. So I turn around. I see the 39 on the other end and across the pedestrian canyon that is the driveway. I walk fast. I don’t make it. I give up and turn around to see the 19. Not exactly what I wanted, but good enough. I get on. And sit for 10 minutes. We leave and go two blocks and sit another few minutes. You know what’s more infuriating and demeaning than seeing a bus leave just moments before you get there? Getting on a bus that isn’t moving anywhere. Even if we’re driving in circles I at least feel like I’m doing something. Sitting and idling is painful.

All the sitting, waiting, and guessing at what might show up and leave has reminded me that yes, IndyGo needs more buses to have higher frequency. But I’m not sure we can say the Center lives up to the claim of “making transfers easier”.

If I thought anyone cared about my recommendations:

  1. The signage for bays and departure times needs to be way bigger and way brighter, or at least flatter. I can imagine some older users probably can’t even read the signs when they’re standing right under them.
  2. Publish a map that shows what bays hold what buses consistently. So when I get off one bus I can know roughly where to look to see if a potential transfer is there and go straight to it.
  3. Give up on trying to corral pedestrians into crosswalks. I know the lawyers and insurance agents will have a fit, but I’m an adult. People jaywalk not because they’re criminals, but because the effort, particularly in bad weather, to use crosswalks is not at all conducive to logic and need. Especially in the winter when the driveway may have less snow/ice coverage than the sidewalks.
  4. Rethink some sign placement. There’s a sign near one crosswalk that says “Not a pedestrian crossing”. Then what is it? The sign that says “Transit Center Grounds Closed” stays up all the time, which seems confusing.
  5. An announcement system for folks outside would be helpful for all users, including those with vision problems. “Now leaving, Route 10, 16, and 28”, for example”. Or, “Arriving now, Route 12, 19, and 22.”
  6. Transfer passes. The lack thereof strikes me more than ever as a cynical money-grab. Pay $1.75 to go from Cumberland to the Airport. Or 7 blocks. That leaves a taste of bad value. And no one likes to feel like they’re being extracted.

Maybe I’m just the only person cranky enough to have problems with this. But I’m still glad to see some forward momentum on this. At least people are trying.

This is what Indianapolis and Indiana will look like in the year 2036

Indy’s Plan 2020 is getting a lot of attention. I tried looking at their site, but almost every link I encountered said nothing or was broken. From what I hear, it’s a lot of zoning and land re-use plans that everyone is holding up as “the key to the city’s future”. I rarely believe that sort of stuff because Indianapolis, like most cities, doesn’t have any money to turn effort into momentum.

Doug Masson is doing an excellent job of summarizing Indiana’s history in his Indiana Bicentennial series.

Given Plan 2020 seems rather lofty and best-case-scenario for the future, and Doug has the State’s overall past covered, I thought it might be interesting to think about what Indianapolis and Indiana might look like in 20 years. That seems like a reasonable amount of time for gears of government to work enough to induce some noticeable policy changes at the state and local levels.

In 20 years this puts Indianapolis in the year 2036. Most millennials will now be somewhere in their 40’s. A new generation will have graduated out of K-12 education.

Indianapolis Neighborhoods

Broad Ripple will experience an overall suburbanization effect. As present-day millennials age and decide they want to hang near work and decent schools with their new families, Broad Ripple is going to look more like an old-school suburb.

Which means all the nightlife, music, and other noisy stuff will continue its trend and firmly supplant itself in Fountain Square. The current colony of artists and other industries that rely on extremely low-rents and low-cost spaces will now be setup around Garfield Park. The Cultural Trail will have extended south to Garfield Park, and East through the New York St/Michigan Street areas. However, we’ll be buzzled as to why all the growth will take place near Garfield Park and not so much on the near east side.

The 16th street corridor will continue its growth just north of Downtown and is likely to grow into something we’ve not seen much before in Indy. I think it’ll become a sort of “uppercrust young people with money” corridor. College students that have wealthy parents, Downtown workers with well-paying jobs, but with a taste that eschews the sort of shiny all-glass all-chrome aesthetic that defines Fountain Square’s new developments today. A new aesthetic of urban, gritty, classical-architecture is likely to take shape here.

The City’s continued investments in new roads, sidewalks, transit corridors, and trails will continue to expand primarily on the north side, north of Washington Street, east of Michigan Road, and west of College Ave. Nothing new here.

Lafayette Square and Washington Square malls will drag down everything around them like a collapsing star. They’ll kill spontaneity, aesthetics, and drag down safety and drive up costs in transportation. Best case is the city will work with Simon to demolish the properties and replace them with a dense node of mixed-use residential and commercial that is affordable and pushes the boundaries of quality, low-cost, office and retail space for entrepreneurs and super small businesses. “Mall to Small” we’ll call it.

Development on the south side will likely cease in this period. The south side will be waiting another 20 years (40 total from today) for suburban counties to struggle with their over-development and sprawl. Their costs will skyrocket, their residents will leave for newer exurbs, and taxes will increase. This will put Fishers, Avon, Plainfield, and Greenwood on a similar tax rate with Marion County. Thus, new development will in-fill on the south side of Marion County to at least get benefits of proximity since costs are equalized.

Shelby and Hancock Counties will benefit from that south side growth in 50-60 years from today as they become the new affordable suburbs.

Families and adults looking to flee from the City will setup shop in Westfield, Whitestown, Lebanon, New Whiteland, and Franklin. These places will resemble Fishers and Carmel today. Danville may also enjoy some exurban growth. Brownsburg will miss this boat because of a lack of vision and planning today. This will be their “lost generation”. Greenfield and Shelbyville will grow once that aforementioned south-side infill occurs.

Greenwood, Avon, Plainfield, Fishers, and Carmel will look like present-day Beech Grove and Lawrence, in that order. Carmel seems to be attempting to avoid this fate by investing heavily now, but heavy debt loads on a fickle population of residents may be their undoing. Greenwood, Avon, and Plainfield are likely unable to avoid this fate and will become old, expensive, and unsustainable once their water, sewer, road, and school systems start requiring immense repairs – all at around the same time. As property ages and becomes less valuable, they will see revenue shrink even more.

It could be that Carmel grows into an urban center unto itself, and between Indianapolis’ core and Carmel’s core the northside of Marion County becomes something else entirely. I think Carmel’s gambles today are likely to be dangerous long-term with debt. Debt is everyone’s undoing.

Indianapolis will maintain healthy bond and debt levels throughout this time, barring an emergency, and resemble our current “slow and steady” conservative approach to growth. But I can imagine a scenario where Indy’s “sports strategy” starts to show some cracks. The Colts are likely to be in negotiations for another new stadium. The Pacers will maintain shop here. The Speedway is going to see a decline in viewership, advertising, and attendance. Baseball, hockey, and soccer will continue to be such minor-players residents will loudly lament the expense of maintaining such expensive hobbies for the City. Particularly as investments in actual quality-of-life issues on the northside incenses people on the east, west, and south sides that don’t see those same amenities, but do see millions pouring into new stadium discussions.

Beech Grove and Lawrence will collapse and be folded into Indianapolis-Marion County government. They will be mere neighborhood names like Nora and Mars Hill conjure up today. Speedway may hang on, but only so long as Allison Transmission is around.

IUPUI will continue to expand east into Downtown for residential and healthcare work. Expect them to push west big time once they have a large enough plan to quickly take over the black neighborhood that’s there now. They’ll eschew growing “up” because of costs in taller buildings, preferring to keep things nice and cheap just over the river.

Indianapolis’ economy

Indianapolis’s economy will continue to be Indiana’s economy, and even more so, despite what state lawmakers will want to recognize, like today. I do not, however, think technology will be Indy’s future savior. I think our economy is likely to look a lot like today.

Salesforce will continue to expand in Indianapolis until the tech bubble bursts and their lack of profits for the sake of growth will cause total collapse of their workforce. Or, Salesforce will continue to expand in Indianapolis until a larger, actually profitable, company (like Microsoft or IBM) comes along and buys them out. That buyer is likely to have no allegiance to Indiana and we’ll enter a period of attrition as they move positions elsewhere. This will cause an undoing of Indy’s tech sector. Many will leave the city for the coasts in job relocations, but many will stay and reenter the workforce as solo entrepreneurs and freelancers. This is going to have a heavy impact on Indy’s income and sales tax revenues, but is likely to even out 10-15 years from then as the market sorts itself out. It’s hard to say which of these two things happens first. They’re racing neck-and-neck with each. What’s clear is that a select few on Wall Street and in San Francisco will be huge beneficiaries while everyday workers and the City wonders what happened and why.

Indianapolis will likely maintain most of its employment stability in government, retail, and biomedical industries (Lilly and Cummins will still do extremely well). Expect healthcare to take a dive as Boomers die and the echo-boomers age into middle-age with relatively modest healthcare needs. In another 50 years healthcare will likely tick up again as Millennials age further.

Indianapolis will continue to be a convention town, as another Convention Center expansion will have happened. Indianapolis will now regularly host large conventions for political parties, the NRA, and the sort of events we view as “just slightly” out of our league today from a capacity and hospitality stance. New hotels will continue to flow into Downtown.

Statewide policy

Indiana’s Legislature will have finally moved on from social issues like gay marriage, but will still be fixated on abortion and immigration. Indiana will likely continue to slide in the direction of less regulation and low taxation, but will compensate by raising more fees and use-taxes. Expect an increase in the gas tax by a bunch, likely within the next 2-5 years from today, and tied to inflation as Speaker Bosma has proposed. Just as electric cars take over more. I’d expect the gas tax to go up in 2-5 years and then a special “electric surcharge tax” will be placed on electric car charging to make up the difference going forward.

Indiana’s Legislature will continue to exert heavy control on Indiana’s municipalities, much to their chagrin. There will also be a push towards improving quality of life, noting that it’s not enough to be good for business if no one wants to live in your state. But this will focus heavily on communities with money. Expect Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, and Evansville to do well here, plus Hendricks, Hamilton, and Boone Counties. Rural decline will continue to heavily decimate the Hoosier hinterlands, placing them in America’s new ghettos: rural, lacking in services, and priced out of useful healthcare, transportation, and high-paying jobs.

Mitch Daniels in his return third term in 2020 will be able to stem the tide for a while, but by 2030 we’ll view rural residents as burdensome and unable to deliver value for the State.

Higher education will continue to be a sore point for Indiana as Hoosiers will still be priced out of it. I don’t expect changes in the pricing of higher education for another generation.

Places currently in economic decline will be largely abandoned. Muncie, Tipton, Seymour, and the like will resemble present-day Gary. Anderson and Kokomo may be able to stem this tide by throwing transit subsidies into Indianapolis’ orbit. Westfield’s gain in residents, for instance, will be Kokomo’s gain in industry.

Very rural counties today, like Cass, Washington, Greene, etc. will decline even further into a barely-self-sustaining entity that is mired in drug abuse, prostitution, underemployment, and anger.

The overarching conclusion: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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.

Indiana’s printing presses and the wheels on the bus

Did you know that Indiana state government once had about half a dozen printing departments? Within itself. All with their own staff and presses and supplies. Did I mention there were several of these? Sometimes one would be busy while others were sitting around doing nothing. That went away during the Daniels administration.

I was thinking about that anecdote this weekend as I placed some trash bags in the garage. Because as I was putting those bags into the trash cart, I thought, “I wonder how much the City pays for this? And why do we contract with Republic Services for so much of the city?”

This is how my brain works.

So I went digging around and I can’t say I can tell. Indianapolis’ budget [PDF] is usually around $35 million a year for solid waste collection (that doesn’t include disposal). I’m in one of the districts that gets served by Indianapolis DPW for trash collection, and we pay an extra $6 a month for recycling pickup via Republic Services. I’ve never had a problem with either.

Republic actually provides collection for much of the city. While I can’t figure out how much is paid where, it does lead to the obvious question: should a city ever collects its own trash? Some cursory Googling would suggest it’s rarely cost-efficient, as municipal workers tend to get paid more. And if you squint, you can make the suggestion that the extra pay makes them behave a little safer.

Like Mitch Daniels and Indiana’s monkeying with the print works, the rationale there was, “If we can open the yellow pages and find at least three companies doing the same thing, we should just hire one of them to do that thing.” It saves money and no one much noticed or cared when they went away. Trash collection seems all the same. No ever complains that their trash guy – city or private – is a problem.

Which brings me to the center of this government nougat: why don’t cities ever consider privatizing their bus systems?

There are plenty of private busing companies. Lots of school districts find it useful to hire a contractor for their school buses and drivers, so why not city buses? If schools do it and people are okay with that, and they’re no more or less safe than a publicly-owned bus, why wouldn’t we?

Indianapolis is set to vote in November on the Marion County Transit Plan, which includes a .025 percent increase on income taxes to pay for expanded bus service (FYI: we pay .093 for trash collection). This doesn’t include the Red Line, which is already paid for by federal money. This plan expands the “typical” service on more city streets, longer hours, and higher frequency (the magic sauce of a successful system).

IndyGo being Indianapolis’ bus provider would receive that money and put it to work. IndyGo exists in a weird place alongside narrow company. They’re a municipal corporation, meaning they can receive public money, but largely operate on their own with their own oversight, governance, boards, and leadership. The Indianapolis Airport Authority and the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library are the other two.

The airport does well with this. But they also have things to sell. Gate fees and usage fees for airlines and other companies keeps them flush. The library is much less so, but they can rent out space and presumably sell some tickets for events. And, luckily, you buy a book once and it’s pretty much okay forever.

IndyGo, however, is not in this fortunate position. Fare boxes can collect ticket revenue, but a bus’ fare box collects about enough money to pay for its gas. The bus itself, the driver, maintenance, and other infrastructure is reliant on public money.

I don’t think anyone with a rational bit of sense can look at IndyGo in its current state and say, “They’re inefficient with money.” If anything, they’re inefficient because they lack enough money to buy reasonably. Like when they buy a used bus from another city, usually Columbus, Ohio, and we run them until they’re powered by everyone’s feet sticking out the bottom. Like your dad who always bought $1,000 cars twice a year because it was “cheaper”.

But when folks walk out and say, “Hey, let’s levy a .025 income tax to pay for such-n-such”, this gets to be a really hard sell for a lot of reasonable people. There are places in Marion County that will pay for this and not see service. Probably ever. No one’s going to drive 4 miles just to take a bus for another 5. And no amount of squinting is ever going to make this valuable to them.

There are people, like me, who won’t see much difference because their current route’s frequency isn’t going up or down in the new plan, and I’m unlikely to ride a bus at 11 pm.

There are also rational people who will say, “Yeah, but for how long?” We pay .025 this year, and the next, but what about in 5? 10? Those costs have to go up sometime. What happens then must either be an increase or a reduction in services. This is true of trash service and lots of things, but it doesn’t seem to come up much. Plus, people are naturally inclined to assume whatever someone says about any public expenditure is likely not true. It’s almost impossible to accurately estimate anything at the scale of an entire city,anyway, but years of stories of really bad government spending has taken its toll.

I’m generally in the corner of privatized services because no one likes a monopoly, and government shouldn’t be allowed to run a monopoly on anything except military and police/justice matters.

And I know lots of great folks working at IndyGo. Like I said, no one can question their ability to make something out of nothing. But what would a private service look like? How come there isn’t a private company that takes on a large city’s bus service? We did it for the Commuter Express busses that served Carmel and Fishers, which was later doomed by low service frequency. Is it because it’s like education, where it inherently has to lose money, but we get a bunch of other things in return that makes that okay?

And if we did privatize it and regulate it like a utility, would that allow for more service through different hours, efficiency, savings, routes, or all of the above? I can imagine the biggest problem may be in loss of significant federal funding sources, which is a problem entirely in and of itself.

Indianapolis likes to lay claim to a bunch of successful public-private partnerships. We do this for school buses, trash collection, water, and electricity. Transportation seems like a reasonable place to look, too.

I ask these questions because I genuinely just don’t know. If anyone can point me to some guidance, please do.