Big Names in Transit Speak to Class About Solutions

Transit is a huge topic, not just in Nashville and Williamson County, but the entire region.  The Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee has been working for years to bring it to the forefront in a productive way.

The alliance, which meets at the Music City Central transport hub downtown, works with all the players in the region to build support for funding transit. A large part of its effort is the Transit Citizen Leadership Academy – the 12th class of the TCLA Academy will soon graduate. TCLA will have a total of 300 alumni. On October 18, the current class met for its last session.

“Our goal is to educate people from all over the region about transit, what the opportunities are, what the hurdles are, then be able to give them tools so that they can go out and have transit conversations with other people,” Jo Ann Graves, President and CEO of the alliance, said. “We take a 20,000-foot view of the issue of transit,” Graves said.

Graves explained further and talked about what the classes are like:

People from a variety of industries from entrepreneurs to TDOT employees take the class. At last Wednesday’s event, the first speaker was Mark Cleveland, founder of ride-sharing app Hytch. Cleveland is a graduate of class number nine. Other speakers included Mary Cavarra, CFO of Ingram, a member of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce board of directors who worked closely in helping to develop the funding plan for the new Nashville transit plan, and John Larson from Uber. Also in attendance was State Representative Michael Curcio.  He took the bus back to his home district in Dickson and visited the class before departure.  Curcio is a sponsor of “The Rural Rideshare Commuter Incentive Act” a bill designed to educate and install better tools for enforcing HOV laws so that the region’s exploding population of long-distance commuters have greater incentives to carpool and bring fewer cars to Nashville.

As a part of the class, each participant completes a project focusing on one particular part of the larger problem. Cleveland studied the policy problems stemming from an unprecedented level of HOV lane violation in Tennessee.

That was the focus of his creative solution, which he shared with the class.

“I am trying to lead a discussion about the most important transit asset we already have that is underutilized throughout Middle Tennessee,” Cleveland said. “I have been pleasantly surprised in talking with people that so many of us already understand the purpose and full potential of an open HOV lane, even while some pretend nobody sees us driving in it by ourself.”

Cleveland talked about two potential ways for his company Hytch to help each of us contribute to mass transportation solutions.  “Clear HOV lanes can offer us a world-class market test for super-frequent bus departures from, for example, Thompson’s Station and Spring Hill.  What if you could zip downtown from Murfreesboro or Mt. Juliet using a bus during rush hour?”

Hytch offers a tool to increase participation in public transit. “Hytch is an incentive reward platform to get greater ridership on public transit and greater participation with more than one person in a car for ridesharing,” he said.

“We are for all forms of two-person-plus transportation,” Cleveland said. “A community’s mobility is directly related to its economic success.”

Switching from the private to public sector, and specifically public funding, Cavarra spoke next about the funding plan that came out in the new Nashville public transit plan. The $5.2 billion plan includes a specific set of taxes to pay for it. The largest is a one-percent sales tax increase, increases in hotel taxes, car rental taxes and business and excise taxes.

Originally, the planners had 21 different types of funding mechanisms. The process of narrowing down the choices and fitting them to what was best and most acceptable to residents was the most important point.

“While no one likes taxes, things don’t come for free,” Cavarra said. “The choices ran from A to Z. You had to look at what was allowed, we had people give input who were lifelong residents, to people who had just moved here.”

For example, property taxes might have been an option but there is a state law preventing them from being raised. So there went one option. Narrowing down between others that were allowed was done through focus groups and polling.

“The mayor’s office has done professional focus groups and polling as part of the process,” Cavarra said. “That is how they, in part, ended up with this specific package of taxes.”

The final speaker was John Larson, with Uber, who oversees operations in the region.

“We want transportation to be seen as reliable as running water,” he said. “We are a viable option and want to be an integral piece of the transportation solution.”

He said that the tremendous amount of data that Uber collects as part of its running its business is also extremely useful for city planners and transit planning.

He used as an example how Uber in Nashville has been useful in studying the reduction of drunk driving.

As the 12th TCLA class graduates, they will take what they learn and pass it on, driving transit education and awareness to the places it needs to be. To apply for a future class or more info, check them out here.

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  1. “Also in attendance was State Representative Michael Curcio. He took the bus back to his home district in Dixon and visited the class before departure.”

    It’s “Dickson” not “Dixon.” Thanks!

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