By Taylor Dixon
INDIANAPOLIS – With 22% of Indianapolis residents living in a food wasteland, the Indiana General Assembly is considering a bill to cut funding for future bus routes.
The US Department of Agriculture defines a food wasteland as “areas where people have limited access to a variety of healthy and affordable foods.” It’s also an area where there is a 20% poverty rate and people either live a mile from a grocery store in urban areas or 10 miles in rural areas.
According to Medical News Today, people who live in food deserts are more likely to suffer from diet-related diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Unai Migeul Andres, map and data analyst for the IUPUI Polis Center and the Savi program, said that not only does one in five Indianapolis residents live in a food desert, but 10,500 households live in a transport food desert, which means they only live have limited access to public transport that can take them to a grocery store. The same Savi study also found that people without a vehicle were 32% more likely to live in a food desert.
Unai Miguel Andres, data analyst for the IUPUI Polis Center, outlines the challenges facing people living in food deserts. Photo by Taylor Dixon.
With so many people living in food deserts, Senate Bill 141 looks to cut funding for IndyGo, Indianapolis’ premier public transportation system. The bill says that if IndyGo fails to meet the required amount from tariffs and sources other than taxes, future projects like the purple and blue lines will be cut. SB 141 was referred to the House Committee on Roads and Transport on March 4, but has not yet received a hearing.
Proponents of this bill say IndyGo has not reached the end of business. Authors such as Senator Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, and Senator Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, blame IndyGo for the potential lack of transportation.
“If the poor, the disabled, veterans and children are injured, they can blame IndyGo, the Indy Chamber of Commerce and the business community,” said Senator Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, in a statement.
Andres also said that cutting off future bus routes could affect the frequency of bus routes. For those who live in transportation deserts, it can be a quarter to a half mile to walk to the nearest bus stop, then it takes at least 10 minutes and then the distance back to their homes is a lot of time, which everyone doesn’t have. And when the bus routes are rare, passengers tend to wait or even have to walk.
Senator Shelli Yoder, D-Bloomington. Photo provided.
“I would love it if people who make these decisions had to actually use transit every now and then to figure out the problem of addiction, the incidence, and the reasons for the incidence,” Andres said. “You may not mind if you miss one because 10 or 15 minutes here or there isn’t really a big deal, but if you have to wait an hour, you can just walk.”
Senator Shelli Yoder, D-Bloomington, noted that in 2016 voters approved a referendum that would raise taxes on better public transport in Indianapolis. She also said groceries in the supermarket don’t alleviate a food wasteland – it means people don’t have access to fresh, healthy food.
“What we need to start with is access to sustainable foods, foods that are healthy and high in nutritional value – that is what we need to talk about,” said Yoder. “And families have access to fresh food using public transport.”
Taylor Dixon is a reporter at TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website operated by Franklin College journalists.