Public Transit is More than a Bus Line—it can be a Lifeline

By Tashi Copeland
—communications officer

A real problem is people don’t recognize the importance of transportation unless they don’t have access to a personal vehicle.

Tashi Copeland

Tashi Copeland

*Insert nervous laugh as I look around the room guiltily. 

When you’ve always had your own vehicle, you don’t even consider what life would be like without it. I’m a perfect example. My parents bought my first car before I passed the driving test. I won the “first-year-student parking lotto” to bring my car to campus freshman year of college. During my senior year, I spent a large portion of my day on the roads, as I worked in Carmel, interned at the Pyramids, went to school in Downtown Indy, and at the end of the night, called Fishers home. My entire life was dependent on having my own car. And I know that my situation is not unique. You may have had a very similar experience driving from school to internship to work and then eventually home day in and day out.

Now imagine this—your car breaks down, and you can’t afford repairs with entry-level wages—in addition to student loan payments. You lose that internship because no one is available to drive you to the West Side in the middle of the day. The internship is a requirement for graduation so that degree is put on hold. Oh—and that co-worker-turned-friend that’s been picking you up in the morning for your 6:30 a.m. shift—just got a better job offer and moves away. Seeing as you no longer have transportation for the 15-minute-commute to Carmel (the average commute for work in Marion County is 23 minutes by the way), you get fired. No income equals eviction.

Losing your access to transportation can easily become the pivotable moment when someone’s circumstances dramatically change. Thankfully, that’s not my story. (If it were, I probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to write this article). But it quite easily could have been.

“Access to public transportation is one of Indiana’s greatest equalizers.”

Connectivity. The term that keeps coming across our newsfeeds. From the national launch of the Reconnecting Communities pilot program to the local partnership between the City of Indianapolis and Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF) through the Connected Communities Initiatives, leaders are recognizing and taking action to solve the connectivity problem. The Indianapolis Public Transportation Foundation is another organization leading in that space through its Nonprofit Discount Program.

In partnership with IndyGo, The Indianapolis Public Transportation Foundation seeks to reduce barriers to public transportation in Marion County by providing integrated services for not-for-profit organizations. Through the foundation’s Nonprofit Discount program, organizations with a 501(c)3 status can purchase full fare bus passes at a 50% discount up to $1,000 off. The goal of the service is to decrease the financial barrier to public transportation, making it easier for organizations in the community to assist individuals seeking employment, food, healthcare, education, and other enriching and essential services.

Hundreds of not-for-profits provide lifesaving supports to our community and are critical to the success and strength of Central Indiana. The strength of any community heavily relies on the strength of connections. Local not-for-profits are investing in building relationships, communications and engagement structures so that their services can be both proactive and responsive to community needs—but still guided by community voices. However, the great services provided by these organizations are only available to those who can connect to them. Without connection, there is no access.

“Access to public transportation is one of Indiana’s greatest equalizers,” said Rachel Moss, strategic initiatives and special projects manager at the Indianapolis Public Transportation Foundation.

Access to transportation is essential for upward-bound mobility. Make no mistake—the current transportation landscape in the US is shaped by inequity. While White households could move to the suburbs and drive to the city during the mass construction of interstate highways in the 1950s, racially discriminative lending practices such as redlining and income disparities restricted home purchase choices for many Black people. Highway construction and parking lots in downtown areas destroyed and displaced many Black neighborhoods (see Wildstyle Paschall’s “Indiana Avenue: The Ethnic Cleansing of Black Indianapolis”), resulting in the crowding and clustering of communities of color. These residential patterns defined by race and income are still prevalent today, casting communities of color into pockets of seclusion.

Equitable transportation systems can help address spatial mismatch and increase upward economic mobility. According to Raj Chetty’s Equality of Opportunity project, shorter commute times significantly predict upward economic mobility. Moreover, reduced commute times and costs could increase equity in employment and income in underappreciated communities.

Leveling the playing field on access to transportation also improves social mobility. In SAVI’s study “Who Rides the Bus: Examining Transit Ridership in Marion County,” riders who can’t or choose not to drive, such as youth and seniors, use transit to make social connections and complete personal errands. Having this access allows them to venture outside of their neighborhoods. Many of these social connections and expansion in reach to services are housed in the wall of local not-for-profits around Indianapolis, making the Nonprofit Discount Program a critical player in the mobility ecosystem.

The late Elijah Cummings said it best, “Our transportation decisions determine much more than where roads or bridges or tunnels or rail lines will be built. They determine the connections and barriers that people will encounter in their daily lives, and thus how hard or easy it will be for people to get where they need and want to go.”

Thank you IndyGo and The Indianapolis Public Transportation Foundation for making the journey a little easier for the community.

Request the discount and other not-for-profit resources here.

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