A bill co-authored by state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, would hike state aid to mass transit agencies to $60 million per year from its current $42.5 million, a hike that transit providers and advocates say is badly needed.
"We have transit systems all over the state, many in rural areas and bigger ones in cities, that would benefit," said Kent McDaniel, executive director of the Indiana Transportation Association.
House Bill 1215 would increase the state's Public Mass Transportation Fund, which has basically been frozen at the $42.5 million for seven years, even as ridership increases significantly on some systems. It is currently awaiting action by the House Ways and Means Committee.
Locally, Gary Public Transportation Corp. ridership increased 5.4 percent in 2014 compared to the previous year and Valparaiso's V-Line ridership increased 5.9 percent. North Township dial-a-ride ridership surged to 36,000 riders in 2013 from just 12,000 in 2012.
The Public Mass Transportation Fund money is distributed to bus agencies through a competitive formula devised by the Indiana Department of Transportation that rewards systems that are growing ridership while running efficient operations.
A 12.3 percent allocation from the fund also goes to South Shore commuter rail operator Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, according to the Indiana Transportation Association.
An increase in the Public Mass Transportation Fund would be especially helpful to on-demand services providing rides to the elderly and others, often in rural areas, said Belinda Petroskey, a transportation planner at the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission.
That is because those systems are not eligible for the federal operating funds that fixed-route bus systems can tap.
"An increase in this fund, the PMTF, would give them a great boost," Petroskey said.
At systems like the demand-response service run by the Porter County Aging and Community Services rider demand outstrips the ability to provide rides by about a 6-to-1 ratio, she said.
Large fixed-route systems such as GPTC rely on the Public Mass Transportation Fund for about one-fifth of its total funding, so it also would benefit. The state funds usually rank second only to federal funding in its annual budgets.
The problem is that for years the state has been distributing a basically fixed amount among more and more bus services that are providing more and more rides, Petroskey said.
"It's a limited pie, and the state keeps trying to slice it up into ever smaller pieces," Petroskey said.