By Lee Rennick
Will a transit system really work? Will it decrease traffic congestion and get cars off of the roads? Will it free up time for those who use it? These are several of the questions that have arisen as the cost of a dedicated transit system is discussed.
Positive Changes If We Move Nashville
The Let’s Move Nashville transit program will reach 78% of residents, 89% of jobs in Davidson County, and the cost to each household will be about five dollars a year in increased taxes (with a bump to ten dollars per household in 2023). The cost of a one-month transit pass will be about $55. Buses and light rail will have Wi-Fi, so riders will be able to put the travel time to good use instead of sit in traffic.
It all sounds good on paper, but will it really work? The answer is yes. And the proof comes from a transit program already taking place between Clarksville and Nashville.
Clarksville Leads the Way
Clarksville’s Mayor Kim McMillian knows about moving the workforce. Most of the state workers who currently live in Clarksville use the bus that runs between there and Nashville every day thanks to an incentive program. The project has become so successful that the city had to move the Park and Ride so they could increase the number of parking spaces. They have also been able to increase the number of buses from one to four.
“Clarksville will soon pass Chattanooga as the fourth largest city in Tennessee,” said McMillian, “we had to find better ways to get people from one place to another. The massive expansion of our population has strained roads.”
McMillian has been able to work with the Tennessee Department of Transportation, and the Regional Transportation Authority, which works to increase public transportation options, to help the Clarksville Transit System build more connector roads and provide increased access to transportation for all residents.
“But it is not just about Clarksville,” McMillian added, “we have to look at what we are going to do about transportation on a regional level.”
Lifestyle Choices Drive the Changes
According to the American Public Transportation Authority, since 1995 public transit ridership is up 34 percent, outpacing population growth, which is up 21 percent.
Millennials are leading the trend. They have budget constraints. Instead of the expense of a car, they are interested in multimodal means of transport. Also, they want to be able to work while in transit to use their time more efficiently so they have more time for leisure activities.
Commuting by the Numbers
Those who switch to public transportation will see financial gain. Currently the cost of commuting — including parking, vehicle maintenance, and gas — is about $12,000 per year per car according to information provided by Mary Elizabeth Ikard, Transportation and Sustainability Manager, Office of the Mayor.
Most cars carry one person. In about an hour 1,600 people will pass one spot on the highway with our current way of doing things. There are over 350,000 workers on the road every day. Put pencil to paper and the gridlock is understandable.
When new transportation program takes effect, it has the potential to take 85,000 cars off of the road. This will decrease drive times, decrease the cost of car maintenance, and increase transportation options.
Incentive Options Already Available
Hytch, the carpooling app, and Nissan are already working to help with commute times. Hytch Rewards offers riders five cents per mile if users share a ride. Payouts are made when a carpooler reaches $10 in the program.
Just like the Clarksville transit incentive, this one incentivizes getting cars off the road. Hytch Rewards is a way for riders to connect with their network of friends and coworkers to linkup and share the expense of commuting. And getting paid to do it.
The Hytch program has struck a cord, just like the one in Clarksville. In the first three weeks after the app hit the market, over 100,000 shared miles were recorded.
Mass Transit is for Everyone
Portland, Oregon has had a dedicated bus transit system and light rail since 1977. The system reaches its fingers throughout the city. It is used by everyone, not just to get to work and back, but by tourists to go to attractions accessible from the line, and on the weekends by whole families to get from place to place. Ticketing is easy to use at transit stations, and transfers are quick from rail to bus.
Their story and those of other successful programs throughout the country have formed the basis of the Let’s Move Nashville plan. Including the one currently in affect in Clarksville.
“When I come to Nashville for state meetings,” said McMillian, “I use the bus system from Clarksville. It is convenient and I get work done on the way.”