A Response to the Nashville Transportation Dilemma-City Bus or a Lyft?

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I have called Tennessee home since the July after my 7th birthday, 1994. My family, one of many, deposited in Spring Hill, Tennessee from the Midwest motor cities of General Motors. Like many, I have never really left. Every departure has always circled me back to my rocky top home. The last adventure landing in 2013, I took up residency in the 37206.

With every passing year, the city’s growth is undeniable, with entire neighborhoods holding a shadow of memory. Since 2016, Nashville has grown at an average of 100 people a day, adding 36,337 in 2016 alone. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2017/03/28/new-data-nashville-region-still-growing-100-people-day/99733098/. More people equals more vehicles on the roadway.

With existing growth not expected to waver, over 3 million people are anticipated to call Nashville home by 2040 Let’s Move Nashville ranking with current populations of Los Angeles and Chicago. In 2017 the local population was hovering around a million people https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2017/03/28/new-data-nashville-region-still-growing-100-people-day/99733098/.  The city is also a tourist destination, not just nationally, but worldwide. At present with a population of a million and tourist influx, Nashville already suffers from congestion and gridlock. The current infrastructure struggles to support the current population, let alone over 3 million people.

Another point of growth in Nashville, is the cost of living is also on the rise, taking nearly $80,000 to live comfortably in Nashville, and median income ranging from $30,000 to $50,000. Most of the population cannot afford to live in the Metropolitan area. Determining affordable transit is going to be necessary not only due to increased traffic, but also to keep people working and living in Nashville Metro https://www.newschannel5.com/news/on-the-rise/cost-of-living-greatly-outpaces-wage-growth-in-nashville.

In May 2018, referendum was held over the 9 Billion Dollar Lets Move Nashville transit plan proposed by former Mayor Barry. 5.4 Billion of the plan dedicated to a Light Rail System and 1.1 Billion to enhance the current bus system. The proposal was voted down with a resounding “No” – leaving no clear resolution as to the future of Public Transportation for Nashville.

Generally, the voting public of Nashville, big picture Tennessee, does not want to pay more taxes. This is evidenced by the fact that Tennessee is one of 7 states without a state income tax https://www.kiplinger.com/slideshow/retirement/T055-S001-9-states-with-no-income-tax/index.html. Aside from Washington, states with cities that have city populations reflective of Nashville, have a state income tax. Property taxes are also much more forgiving in Tennessee as compared to national counterparts. USA today ranked it 4 out of 11 states with the lowest property taxes. https://amp.usatoday.com/amp/482944002. Let’s Move proposed tax increases on sales, hotels, businesses and rental cars to pay for the transit plan. With such a heavy price tag and an already resistant public to increasing taxation, it is no wonder why it was not accepted.

The Nashville MTA bus system offers a fair amount of service, but the enhancements proposed in The Let’s Move Plan alone would vastly improve the public transportation dilemma. The plan proposed expanded service hours, more frequent stops for bus riders, and greater overall accessibility. The projected cost of 1.1 Billion for these enhancements in Let’s Move also might be a slightly easier sell to the current tax weary voter public. Optimizing current transportation technologies not addressed in Let’s Move are viable options as well.

Rideshare companies, such as Lyft and Uber, have a massive presence in Nashville. Utilizing these drivers and companies for public transit is an innovative and low cost alternative to traditional transportation methods. The city could partner with these Rideshare companies to offer carpooling services to commuters.

For instance, this partnership could offer a weekly or monthly cost for a seat in a carpool provided by the Rideshare company. The Rideshare company could offer specific time slots/days for customers to sign up for. The customer would have to participate so many days a week or out of that month to keep their seat in that carpool. Drivers that participate would also receive a flat fare from the ride, with the option to tip still being available. The fee could vary depending on the time slot selected and expected traffic based on current data these companies already use to calculate fairs. An incentive to utilizing this carpool service, would be free rides provided by the Rideshare company. These free rides could be subsidized with tax dollars.

There are inherent issues that could arise with intermingling Rideshare companies with Public Transportation.  Would the city regulate the safety of these vehicles? Would Rideshare drivers become government employees? In short, no. It would work much like when the government accepts a bid from a private vendor on a public project.  Rideshare companies would keep the same model and regulate themselves within current law surrounding those services with as little government interference as possible.

Working with Rideshare companies in developing smart phone apps along with the carpool service, would provide a seamless and easy to use way to access bus routes as well. Let’s Move proposed this kind of technology as part of improving existing transportation. This technology would assist consumers in accessing information about the system in one convenient place and would also help local law makers in determining and regulating the use of these systems.

Even with simply adopting the previously proposed bus enhancements and incorporating the use of Rideshare Companies into the mix, a broader solution will be needed to match the projected growth of Metro Nashville. The major task at hand is convincing taxpayers of this need.


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