Electric Vehicle Charging Station Program Begins in Northwest Indiana

In an effort to encourage more use of alternative fuels in Northwest Indiana, the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) has partnered with South Shore Clean Cities to launch a pilot program making electric vehicle charging stations available to more public entities.

South Shore Clean Cities is a Crown Point-based public/private organization that promotes the use of alternative fuels and technology.

Through the end of January 2015, the IN-Charge Around Town Electric Vehicle Program offers financial incentives to help defray the costs of putting in charging stations on public buildings. NIPSCO is offering up to $1 million in incentives for the program, according to a press release.

This program is the second part of NIPSCO’s recent alternative fuel push; the IN-Charge at Home Program gave an instant credit for residents to install a charging station on their property. Additionally, NIPSCO will buy an equal amount of renewable energy certificates for every unit of electricity used through the program.

“Electric vehicles are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to gasoline-powered cars,” explains Carl Lisek, executive director of South Shore Clean Cities, in a press release. “They offer fuel cost savings, produce no tailpipe emissions and help reduce reliance on imported oil.”

Charging station owners can choose to charge for using the station, but will operate free of charge for the owners.

Indy Still Miles Behind on Mass Transit Compared to Other Cities

While mass transit in Central Indiana finally received a somewhat-limiting go-ahead from the Indiana General Assembly in the recently completed session, others with long-established systems are moving forward.

A recent Governing article noted:

  • Boston plans to extend weekend transit service until 3 a.m. Young professionals gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to the longer hours for subways, light rail, streetcars and buses.

And here, it took three years to get state permission to have a local referendum to approve a system that would likely only include some faster buses (light rail not allowed). Just saying that despite Indiana being a great place to live, we’re way, way behind on this amenity.

  • London plans 24-hour weekend service on some subway lines in 2015. Chicago, New York and Philadelphia already do the same.

Why is this so important? The article notes: “As young professionals, many of whom are car-free, seek out vibrant cities in which to live and work, this is seen as a way to attract them. … Transit at all times ensures that mobility is available to everyone.”

Park in One Country, Fly Out of Another

Fascinating facts while scanning a New York Times article on efforts to build a bridge in San Diego that would serve as a direct pedestrian border crossing to Tijuana International Airport:

  • At three other airports, passengers can park their car in one country for a flight out of another country. They are two airports on the Swiss-French border and a shuttle that runs passengers between airports in Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China.
  • Annually, 2.4 million U.S. travelers use the Tijuana airport, nearly 60% of the airport’s traffic. Why? Fees are up to 50% less to fly throughout Mexico.
  • Mexico widened the San Ysidro crossing to 34 lanes in 2012; yet, substanial delays await those traveling between the two countries and at the five other border crossings in California.

The story notes that funding delays in Congress must still be overcome for development on the U.S. side of the border. Although not finalized, bridge fees are expected to range from $13 to $17. Passengers would park on the U.S. side and walk across an enclosed 325-foot passageway directly to the airport.

We’ll keep an eye on what could be an innovative solution to what is described as a too small, landlocked Lindbergh Field in San Diego.

Help Get I-69 Into National Freight Network

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is currently seeking comments on the Primary Freight Network and National Freight Network designations. The Indiana Chamber believes that I-69 should be included as part of the National Freight Network and is asking DOT to support this effort.

As part of the National Freight Network designation, DOT has the opportunity to identify an additional 3,000 miles of highways that are critical to the future efficient movement of goods; this represents a strategic opportunity for the nation to enhance its freight transportation network.

A national priority over the past 20 years, I-69’s significance as a major freight route will increase as states along the corridor continue making progress toward its completion.

I-69 provides the most direct interstate access to principle international border crossings between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, as well as multiple Gulf Coast ports; the volume of traffic on I-69 is anticipated to dramatically rise as the interstate progresses. For all these reasons, I-69 should be included in the Primary Freight Network.

We urge you to show your support for including I-69 as part of the Primary Freight Network by signing this petition.

Transportation Funding: Current Taxes, Fees Not Paying for Highways

Transportation funding is a topic that is getting more traction (tire pun completely intended), and we recently explored the Chamber’s position on this blog, which includes comments from our own VP Cam Carter.

In fact, one of the Indiana Chamber’s legislative priorities for 2014 is development of a vehicle miles traveled pilot program. The need for such initiatives is illustrated in a new Tax Foundation study that finds just over half of state and local expenses on roads in 2011 came from highway user taxes and fees. Indiana falls below the national average.

Despite being dedicated to fund transportation projects, revenues from gas taxes and tolls pay for only about half of state and local spending on roads, according to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation. Alaska and South Dakota come last in transportation funding derived from gas taxes and tolls—10.5 percent and 21.5 percent, respectively—while Delaware and Hawaii rank the highest—78.6 percent and 77.3 percent, respectively.

State and local governments spent $153.0 billion on highway, road, and street expenses, but raised only $77.1 billion in user fees and user taxes ($12.7 billion in tolls and user fees, $41.2 billion in fuel taxes, and $23.2 billion in vehicle license taxes). The rest was funded by $30 billion in general state and local revenues and $46 billion in federal aid.

“The lion’s share of transportation funding should be coming from user taxes and fees, such as tolls, gasoline taxes, and other user-related charges,” said Tax Foundation Tax Foundation Vice President of State Projects Joseph Henchman. “When road funding comes from a mix of tolls and gasoline taxes, the people that use the roads bear a sizeable portion of the cost. By contrast, funding transportation out of general revenue makes roads “free,” and consequently, overused or congested—often the precise problem transportation spending programs are meant to solve.”

The story is much the same even when adding other transportation options to the mix. In 2011, state and local governments spent $58.7 billion on mass transit, $22.7 billion on air transportation facilities, $1.6 billion on parking facilities, and $5.2 billion in ports and water transportation, in turn raising $13.2 billion in mass transit fares, $18.8 billion in air transportation fees, $2.2 billion in parking fees and fines, and $4.2 billion in water transportation taxes and fees. Altogether, states raised about 48 percent of their transportation spending from user taxes, fees, and other charges.

Expanding tolls and indexing gasoline taxes for inflation may not be politically popular even though transportation facilities and services are highly popular. Given that transportation spending exists, states should aim to fund as much of it as possible from user fees and user taxes. Subsidizing road spending from general revenues creates pressure to increase income or sales taxes, which can be unfair to non-users and undermine economic growth for the state as a whole.

Indy/San Francisco Flight Ready for Takeoff; Needs Support from Business Travelers

Hoosier business leaders and Indiana travelers will soon be privy to a non-stop flight from Indianapolis to San Francisco on January 8 (and a direct flight already exists en route to Los Angeles). United Flights 317 and 500 (named for Indianapolis’ area code and the Indy 500) will be incredibly convenient to those in many industries.

The Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) recently wrote:

With over 4,900 seats already reserved, we’re off to a great start, but it’s important to keep that momentum going.  The best way is to simply buy tickets and show your support.

It’s an incredible holiday gift that will certainly bring new opportunities and investment to the Hoosier State, and yet another reason Indiana is a state that works for business.

Indiana Chamber board member Michael Wells, who also serves as president of REI Investments and on the Indianapolis Airport Authority Board, explains the benefits of the flight.

“This will be very helpful for the tech community, like SalesForce.com (which recently acquired Indy-based ExactTarget) and others,” he notes. “It also will allow (venture capital groups) to fly into Indy in the evening, conduct business during the next day and catch a good connection back to the West Coast, leaving around 5 p.m. and still arriving at a decent hour due to the time zone.”

Wells adds that the San Francisco flight will serve as a connection to Asia, and connections are set up for convenient transfers for passengers.

TAKE NOTE: However, it’s critical that Indiana travelers and the business community use the flight if it’s to be continued beyond the next year, and the local market will need to prove it can support it. A release from IEDC reports:

The Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) will provide United Airlines with a minimum revenue guarantee, consistent with industry standards and United’s business model, during the term of the one-year agreement. To accomplish this, the IEDC allocated $1.5 million in a reserve fund, which represents the state’s maximum financial exposure. No payments from the reserve fund will occur as long as the market’s support for the nonstop route equals or exceeds the minimum revenue guarantee.

Are Americans Still Kings of the Road? If So, We’ll Need to Pay for Them

Transportation funding is a topic that has been more or less buried in the news as of late. Between government shutdowns, ACA roll-out challenges, foreign riots and the like, the American public isn’t really discussing this issue — though it’s an important one. This article from the Los Angeles Times outlines the concept of taxing car mileage, and the inherent benefits and challenges of such a system. Below, Cam Carter, our VP of small business and economic development, writes more on the subject.

Carter elaborates:

“There are three scenarios that policy-makers must consider:

  1. Do nothing and have both federal and state highway funds remain insufficient to maintain today’s roads & highways, let alone expand our transportation system to accommodate future economic needs and job creation.
  2. Raise both federal and state fuel taxes to make up for decades of not indexing them to inflation and then index them for future years. This is politically difficult and would likely result in some form of consumer/voter “sticker shock.”
  3. Explore a vehicle miles travelled tax (VMT) as a potential new way to fund critical infrastructure while addressing and managing privacy concerns.

With regard to privacy concerns and VMT, anyone with a cell phone is already carrying tracking technology in his/her back pocket today. Millions voluntarily provide location data, knowingly or unknowingly, to government and commercial interests today. Privacy and “Big Brother” concerns can be managed with technology and transparent public policy.  

In Indiana, the VMT legislation the Indiana Chamber supported and will continue to seek sets up a voluntary program to study the issue. It would examine replacing current fuel taxes with a VMT fee, not be tacked onto existing taxes.  

We must at least study alternatives to today’s broken system. Key question: Who pays for the roads when we are all driving all-electric vehicles? Clearly, technology has outpaced public policy in this arena;  we need to catch-up.”

Throwback Thursday: Back in the Winter of ’59

Today's venture back in the annals features a 1959 collection of research studies, titled "Spotlight on Legislative Issues," which was prepared by the Chamber and provided to state legislators of the day.

I'll list some of the interesting topics du jour, though one observation is that society was still working to define — and regulate — the woman's role in the workplace during that time. Debates centered around the merits of equal pay and how to regulate their hours.

It's also interesting to read that the Chamber was waging the battle for more efficient local government spending back then, as it's no secret we're no fans of the current township structure. One paragraph reads:

"There appears to be no assurance that the local government finance problem will correct itself in the immediate future if present practices and laws are unchanged. The continuing and growing desire of people to 'live out,' the construction of community shopping centers away from downtown areas, the rapid improvement in highway transportation and movement of traffic, and the decentralization trend in industry all point to further complications. These complications are the result of the shifting from one local government unit to another of responsibility  for administration and financing of specific governmental services while the taxable property which normally might be expected to bear a part of the cost of these services is in another taxing unit."

To paraphrase: "Something's askew here." Still how we feel today about local government.

County highway funding was also a major issue then. Legislators and the business community were considering the most efficient ways to keep Hoosiers moving:

"Need for improvement in the administration of county highways in Indiana will be one of the major problems confronting the 1959 Legislature. The importance of this issue cannot be discounted when it is realized that state-collected highway tax funds amounting to $40 million will be expended by the counties this year. Rural residents who use county roads as 'farm to market' or 'job to home' routes know and appreciate the fact that safer and more durable county roads are needed. County roads constitute approximately 77 per cent of the road and street milage in Indiana. This rural road milage is highly essential to the welfare of a large segment of the state's population."

Don’t Miss the Upcoming Logistics Summit in Indy

We get it: Logistics is a big deal in Indiana. And it’s much more than the “Crossroads of America” moniker.

Logistics plays a key role in several goals within Indiana Vision 2025, the Indiana Chamber’s long-range economic development action plan. The sector employs more than 300,000 people across the state.

Help take logistics to the next level by participating in the 11th Annual Indiana Logistics Summit on October 9-10, co-hosted by Ports of Indiana, Purdue University and Conexus Indiana.

"Asia to Indiana Nonstop" will feature insights from Gov. Pence and state business leaders with a focus on the new intermodal service that could reduce supply chains by a week (BizVoice magazine introduced this initiative earlier this year). Highlights include education sessions (learn strategies to reduce your supply chain costs and more), networking opportunities and an expo.

The event will take place at the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis. Learn more and register at www.indianalogistics.com.

VIDEO: A Discussion About Northwest Indiana

NWIndianaLife.com recently spoke to our president, Kevin Brinegar, about the key issues facing the northwest Indiana business community. We appreciate the opportunity, and here is their synopsis of the 21-minute interview.

In this interview, Kevin Brinegar of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce discusses the Chamber's relationship with Northwest Indiana. He talks about how important the Region is to Indiana as a whole, given the proximity to Chicago and the variety of infrastructure in place for transportation and industry. He goes on to discuss some of the recent developments coming out of the Region, including the Illiana Expressway and how it will improve traffic flow in and out of the area, as well as the expansion of the Gary Airport, lakefront developments, and how the RDA is helping with improvements on a regional level. Next, he covers some of the positive opportunities coming out of Gary in the future, and how the revitalization efforts are helping the future of this strategically located city. Kevin then talks about the business climate in Indianapolis, and how visionary leaders across industries have helped foster a thriving area of economic growth. He attributes this growth to Indiana having one of the best, most stable climates for business growth, and how well the state has been ranked overall. He sees Indiana's economic future in the hands of the Chamber of Commerce, helping to grow the economy over long periods and directing long-term planning for the years ahead. He goes on to discuss how the Indiana Chamber of Commerce distributes information to the people of Indiana, through emails, newsletters, magazines, blogs, twitter, and more. Some plans the Chamber of Commerce have been implementing include the Indiana Vision 2025 plan and covering the cost of preschool for families to help prepare the next generation. He sees the Porter County Career and Tech Center as a model for engagement with employers as student are learning trades in school.