Planning agency must do more to find public transportation funds, panelists say
By Michelle L. QUinn Post-Tribune correspondent October 30, 2012 9:36PM
Updated: December 1, 2012 4:42PM
GARY — At least two major players with stakes in Northwest Indiana’s transportation agree that the region’s planning entity has to step up its role in securing funding to stabilize and grow the area’s public transportation.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and former Lake County Sheriff Roy Dominguez, who now sits on the board of Merrillville-based not-for-profit Everybody Counts Inc., an advocacy group for the disabled, called out the Northern Indiana Regional Planning Commission for not doing more to secure funds for regional busing.
The two, along with Gary Public Transportation Corp. General Manager Daryl Lampkins, 1st District Lake County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen Jr. and Indiana University Northwest student Adarya Kelly, participated Tuesday in the school’s “Shattering the Silence” forum put on by its Council on Diversity.
The two agreed that because NIRPC has the ability to nab more federal dollars to improve the region’s standard of living, an efficient public transportation system should be among its top priorities.
As well, it should be supportive of and honor the solutions the municipalities come up with.
Freeman-Wilson called the lack of cohesive, encompassing transportation a “social justice issue.”
As an attorney, there were many times that her clients would be late for court in Crown Point, or just not show up at all, because they either couldn’t get a ride or had to be up at 5 a.m. to catch a bus that would still be late.
“I understood what they were going through, but the judges didn’t want to hear it,” the mayor said.
“(Public transportation) certainly needs funding, but there’s also an issue of people in power not understanding how critical it is for others.”
Kelly, a student at IUN who is legally blind, spoke to its necessity. As someone who doesn’t own a car, any time GPTC has to cut back services, it has a real affect on her.
“People have to quit their jobs when schedules are cut,” Kelly said.
“Right now, my son’s taking classes at Ivy Tech in East Chicago, and the bus stops before 8 p.m. when he gets out of class. But my son can’t stop going to school because he wants to better himself.
“I hope we can come up with a solution.”
Allen said when he joined the RBA board six years ago, there was a push to have the county adopt a food and beverage tax to support public transportation.
That idea was shelved, however, once the 1-2-3 tax caps were adopted by the state.
An income-tax credit from a $300 homestead tax credit given to low-income and disabled residents was supposed to be brought before the Indiana General Assembly earlier this year, but more pressing issues such as right-to-work took up the legislators’ time, Allen said.