An IndyGo bus pictured on Nov. 27, 2023. (Photo/ Jennifer Wilson of Mirror Indy)

This article was originally published by Mirror Indy, a Free Press Indiana partner.

By  Ryan Martin

Mirror Indy

January 11, 2024

Indianapolis residents would lose access to free bus rides on Election Day under new legislation filed by a state senator from southern Indiana.

IndyGo buses were free to ride during the 2022 and 2023 general elections because of a sponsorship from AARP Indiana, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of older residents.

The AARP sponsored similar efforts in Fort Wayne, Gary and Evansville, and is currently considering another sponsorship in Indianapolis for the 2024 general election — which will contain the high-profile elections of attorney general, governor, U.S. senator and president.

But those rides would be stopped under Senate Bill 187, which contains a single sentence: “A public transportation agency shall not implement free or reduced fares on a general, primary or municipal election day.”

en. Gary Byrne, R-Georgetown, said his legislation is about ensuring all voters have the same access to the polls.

“It’s a fairness thing for me on voting,” Byrne told Mirror Indy on Thursday. “The area that I live in, there’s no public transportation, and to say one part of the state gets a free ride to go vote sort of discriminates against other people in the state who don’t have that opportunity.”

(There are two public transit systems that serve Hoosiers in parts of Byrne’s district, including one that provided free rides on Election Day.)

An AARP spokesman said the nonprofit is monitoring Byrne’s bill and working to ensure all officials, regardless of their party affiliation, are paying attention to the issues affecting older residents, such as adequate housing, health care and transportation.

“Access to reliable transportation is crucial for older Hoosiers no matter where they live because it allows them to stay in their homes and neighborhoods,” Jason Tomcsi, a spokesman for AARP Indiana, said in response to emailed questions. “It’s an issue we are focused on, no matter what day it is, and for communities of all sizes.”

Tomcsi was not aware how many free rides were provided in Indianapolis.

IndyGo tracks that information but was unable to provide it quickly on Thursday. In response to questions about the new bill, though, a spokesperson emphasized IndyGo’s commitment.

“Offering fare-free rides on Election Day and some holidays goes straight to the heart of our mission, removing barriers to ensure everyone has access to reliable transportation,” IndyGo spokesperson Carrie Black said in a statement.

In an interview with Mirror Indy, Byrne raised another concern with the free bus fares on Election Day. He said such efforts shouldn’t be subsidized by taxpayers, who are paying for public transportation.

When informed by Mirror Indy that the rides in Indianapolis are sponsored by the nonpartisan AARP, Byrne noted that taxpayers funded the buses.

And he said AARP still is deciding which voters are able to obtain free rides and which ones aren’t.

“AARP isn’t giving free rides across all the state of Indiana,” Byrne said. “The government is paying for some voters’ trips and not others, or another nonprofit entity. That takes a step backward in my mind if we’re promising to improve election integrity in our state.”

Sen. Andrea Hunley, D-Indianapolis — whose Senate district contains the busiest IndyGo bus route — grew visibly frustrated during a news conference when asked about Byrne’s comments about fairness.

“I would love to teach a lesson about the difference between fairness and equity,” said Hunley, a former Indianapolis public school teacher and principal. “And we know that equity is giving people what they need in order to be at the same level as everybody else. And some people need a free ride to the polls.”

When asked during a news conference Thursday what problem the bill was trying to solve, the head of the Senate — Sen. Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville — said he would let Byrne speak for his own bill.

“I haven’t had a conversation with him about that,” Bray said. He said the Senate Republican caucus would discuss it later.

Bray assigned the bill to the Senate Local Government Committee. Byrne said he has not yet learned whether his bill will receive a hearing, but it’s still early in the legislative session.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 187 is the second bill filed by a Republican lawmaker this year that would undercut IndyGo’s operations.

The other — Senate Bill 52 — would jeopardize IndyGo’s implementation of the planned Blue Line by preventing the agency from dedicating portions of Washington Street to the bus rapid transit system.

That bill is carried by Indianapolis Republican Sen. Aaron Freeman.

Clarification: This article was updated at 10:45 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 11 to note that Sen. Byrne’s district includes two public transit systems, including one that offered free rides on Election Day.

Mirror Indy deputy managing editor Ryan Martin is available at 317-500-4897 or Follow him on XLinkedIn and Instagram.

Related Posts