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Bill in Indiana statehouse would ban free Election Day rides on public transportation

Sen. Gary Byrne introduced bill in legislative session.
IndyGo passengers
Posted at 11:12 PM, Jan 12, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-12 23:13:08-05

INDIANAPOLIS — If you depend on taking the bus to get to your polling place on Election Day, you might have to pay for your ride if a new bill becomes law.

Indiana State Sen. Gary Byrne, a Republican from Byrneville representing District 47, is the sole sponsor of Senate Bill 187.

The bill only contains one sentence: "Prohibits certain free or reduced public transportation fares on Election Day."

IndyGo traditionally offers free Election Day rides on its routes. More than 16,000 riders travel on IndyGo every day, and opponents of the bill worry those passengers will be left politically voiceless if it becomes law.

"It's petty, and it's designed to suppress votes," said Indiana League of Women Voters president Linda Hanson. "It's working against making access to the polls easy for every voter, and it should not be passed."

Sen. Byrne defended the bill in a statement to WRTV:

"Not everyone, especially those in rural communities like mine, has access to public transportation, let alone incentives to vote through free public transportation. When the government or a public entity pays for some voters' trips but not others', it looks like they are picking who they want to vote. That takes a step back on our promise to improve election integrity and ensure fair elections for Hoosiers statewide."

— Sen. Gary Byrne (R) - Byrneville

The bill is the latest state bill aimed at limiting local public transit. Indiana lawmakers passed a law banning light rail in 2014, and another bill introduced this session would ban future bus-only lanes.

IndyGo riders such as James Murray hope politicians decide to invest in public transportation instead of limiting it.

"I started riding IndyGo when my car's alternator and transmission went completely out," Murray said. "Even when I get a new car, I'm still going to park my car and ride the bus. My experience on IndyGo has been pretty good. Since I haven't had a car, it made me realize both sides of the situation."

IndyGo released a statement to WRTV regarding the bill:

Very little information is publicly available on Senate Bill 187, so it’s difficult to gauge the specific impacts to IndyGo and our riders. However, in general, IndyGo is committed to connecting our community to economic, educational and cultural opportunities through safe, reliable and accessible transportation. 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.

— Carrie Black, IndyGo director of communications