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IndyGo riders, unaware of state senators’ action, unhappy to learn Purple Line at risk

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A state legislature bill that would likely kill a major expansion of bus rapid transit for IndyGo took a step forward Tuesday.

Senate Bill 141 passed 32-to-17 with a few Republicans joining Senate Democrats in opposition. The bill now heads over to the House for consideration.

Without exception, bus riders along 38th Street did not know their current bus line is slated to be replaced by the Purple Line, a bus rapid transit route to connect the former Fort Benjamin Harrison area in Lawrence to downtown Indianapolis. The proposed Purple Line would operate like the Red Line that now sends rapid transit buses between between the University of Indianapolis and the Broad Ripple business district.

Route 39, from the downtown to the northeast site, is one of the three most-used routes in Indianapolis with more than a million rider-trips in 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“I ride it every day,” said rider Christopher Allen. “It helps me get to where I need to get to.”

“I ride the bus just about every day,” added Kimmuel Odum.

The Route 39 bus comes every 15 minutes throughout the day. Still, the idea of rapid transit every 10 minutes with improved bus stops and dedicated lanes is one very much welcomed by those who use it every day.

“It would make a big difference,” Odum said.

“I can do it faster; the rapid sounds a little better,” Allen added.

Tracy Craig uses the bus to get to work. It takes her two hours each way as she has to change buses each direction.

“Two hours, yes,” she said and then laughed. “If it would get us to work every 10 minutes, that would be a better option for us.”

On Tuesday afternoon, a very different discussion happened downtown inside the Indiana Senate chambers.

Senate Republicans who have authored a bill believe IndyGo has been delinquent for years in raising private donations and grant money to add up to 10% of operating expenses for expanded projects such as the proposed Red Line and the Purple Line bus rapid transit routes. Now, IndyGo wants to include federal grants into that requirement.

“They come up with this bogus argument at the end because they had no other argument to use,” said state Sen. R. Michael Young, a Republican from Indianapolis. “The city made an agreement they don’t want to keep.”

“They have not lived up to their end of the bargain,” said state Sen. Aaron Freeman, another Republican from Indianapolis who is the author of Senate Bill 141.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats point to the wide support a 2016 referendum in Marion County had in raising income tax to fund expanded projects as well as the idea that in other contexts, federal grant money is not considered tax dollars despite the opinion from Attorney General Todd Rokita, also a Republican.

“The law is on my side on this one,” said state Sen. Greg Taylor, a Democrat from Indianapolis.

“Federal grants, according to the State Board of Accounts, are not considered taxes,” added state Sen. Fady Qaddoura, who is also a Democrat from Indianapolis.

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