Terre Haute City bus

Community debate can stir positive changes.

The city of Terre Haute will provide free bus rides on Tuesday, May 8, the primary election day in Indiana. All bus riders, regardless of their destination, won't have to pay the regular $1.75 daily fare. The gesture can be a "win-win" for the community and public transportation in the city, Terre Haute Transit director Debbie Hensley said today. Residents — especially the ow-income, elderly and disabled — who don't live close to one of the county's vote center can get there at no cost. And, newcomers to bus service may decide they like it.

"All will benefit," Hensley said.

Most notably, the community will take a step to improve its weak record of voter turnout in recent elections. Vigo's turnout for the 2016 election was third lowest in the state, and the 2015 municipal election drew only 8,255 people to the polls — Terre Haute's lowest number since at least the 19th century.

Efforts to boost turnout hit the public spotlight earlier this month, when members of the Vigo County School Board proposed transporting high school seniors to their first voting opportunities via school buses on May 8. That idea sparked debate and controversy, and though the original concept has been scrapped, the school district intends to find other options to help 28 students who lack regular transportation to get to the polls.

The discussion also illuminated the problems of poll accessibility for elderly and disabled people living in public housing complexes such as Garfield Towers, Warren Village and Liberty Village, which don't have a vote center nearby. Their predicament was mentioned as one reason why the bus-the-students-to-the-polls idea should not go forward — other less mobile sectors of the population need it more.

The decision by the city — which mirrors those in cities across the nation — helps resolve that problem.

"That way, there are no excuses not to go out and vote," Hensley said.

Active methods of increasing voter participation are needed across many demographic groups in Vigo County. The issue involving young, newcomer voters sparked a larger discussion.

"It seemed it was a bigger issue," said Mike Gordon of the Citizens for Better Government in Vigo County. "Some of the senior centers are pretty far from the voting sites, and some of the inner city is a long way from a voting site." That citizens group, along with the League of Women Voters of Vigo County, the Sisters of Providence and others soon started looking at broader solutions.

City buses provided 278,276 rides last year on both the transit system's fixed routes and ADA door-to-door service within the city limits. Those buses will run, as usual, from 5:45 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Election Day. Residents needing information about pickup times, the nearest city bus stops and lift service for the disabled should call the transit office in advance at 812-235-0109. All of the vote centers within the city limits are on the city buses' fixed (or regular daily) routes, Hensley.

Because the city buses only service within the city limits, the citizen groups will continue to discuss options to reach rural residents in the outlying parts of Vigo County, Gordon said. Some churches are interested in helping transport people to the polls, as well, he said.

"This should be nonpartisan, and even though we may disagree on things, this is about the act of voting, and our turnouts have been poor," Gordon said. "Getting more people to vote is good, regardless of who they vote for, and it should be as easy as possible to vote."

This is a big step in that direction.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

Trending Video