Jen Weber

Think you’ll never need transit? Not so fast

Not long ago, I developed vision problems that limit my ability to drive. As a result, I suddenly became aware of how much I took driving for granted.

I also became occasionally dependent on public transit. That opened my eyes to just how limited Indianapolis’ transit system is, and how inadequate it can be for those people who have to rely on it.

As a 42-year-old who lives and works downtown, I actually can manage pretty well without driving on most days. I ride my bike, walk and use public transit to get around. I also have a job and employer that allow me some flexibility, and the means to take a cab or Uber if I need to.

But a recent trip to Methodist Hospital made me realize just how limiting our public transit can be. I simply needed to run an errand to the hospital, and I thought my lunch hour would be sufficient. But I work a couple of miles from Methodist, too far for a roundtrip walk in 60 minutes, so I thought I’d take the bus.

I quickly discovered that, from where I work, the best way to get to Methodist by public transit would have required walking a number of blocks, catching a bus that connects to the IU Health People Mover, and riding the People Mover to the hospital. Making that trip wouldn’t have left me the time to do what I needed to do and get back to my office.

Of course, I could have jumped into my car and zipped right up there in 20 minutes.

But that’s the point: What about people who don’t have cars? What about people who work jobs with very restrictive time schedules, or who can’t afford to miss any time at work? What about people – like me sometimes – who simply can’t drive: people with disabilities or health limitations, older people, or people who simply don’t have a license. What are they supposed to do?

About now, you might be thinking, “But that’s not me.” I would have thought the same thing a while back. I didn’t anticipate vision problems. I had no way of knowing that I someday would not be able to drive whenever and wherever I wanted to.

This point came to mind recently when I was talking with a couple people and the issue of transit came up. They were balking at the idea of paying increased taxes for a system they’ll never use. What surprised me is that these folks are older and could very well could find themselves unable to drive before too long. If that happens, will they be able to rely on family and friends to take them everywhere? Will they be able to afford the repeated costs of cabs and Uber? Will they appreciate having to impose on others to drive them here and there?

Even more important, perhaps, are they happy living in a world where, even if they do have the means to get around without a car, so many people don’t? Or would they be willing to invest a few dollars a year in making sure everyone can get where they need to be, regardless of physical or financial limitations or whether they own a car?

I’ve been delighted to see the improvements IndyGo has made, and I think the new Julia M. Carson Transit Center will help. But more needs to be done. We need a transit system that serves the needs of everyone who will need it in the years ahead – even those people who, today, can’t imagine needing it.