Regional Transit Authority Predicts Gridlock By 2040 Without New Options For Suburbanites

Oct 2, 2015

Beyond Nashville’s border, the regional transportation system has not kept up with demand and could fall further behind as the population grows, according to a new transit study.

The issues holding back transit through the 10-county region, according to the "State of the RTA System" report, are lack of frequency of regional train and bus service, the inability of "express" buses to move faster than traffic, and the inconvenience and lack of awareness of Park-and-Ride lots for commuters and carpoolers.

All of the challenges are made more urgent by the extreme population growth of the counties surrounding Nashville, which could jump by 80 percent by 2040.

A Commuter's Struggle

When Michael Bolen commutes each day from Mt. Juliet to Donelson, he almost always sees red lines on his map. That means severe traffic congestion. 

So he has tried the Music City Star to avoid traffic. But like many who want better transit beyond Nashville’s borders, he says the area’s only commuter train has drawbacks.

“The cons are the price. They don’t have a fare for the way I use it. They charge me as if I’m going all the way to downtown,” he said. “And, also, the frequency. If you need to go home in the middle of the day, you can’t. It’s at the beginning of the day and the end of the day.”

This regional bus ridership chart captures growth over time on all of the bus routes (color coded). (Regional bus route names are always a number followed by an "x.")
Credit RTA

    

Concerns like Bolen’s appear prominently in the new report, which finds many residents wanting the train and regional buses to go between counties more than just two or three times each day.

And until those buses can avoid traffic — the study even suggests allowing them to use the shoulder of the freeway, like in some parts of Chicago and Minneapolis — they will struggle to woo riders.

“We hear it time and time again, you know, that having the commuter bus is nice, but that frankly, when it’s mixed in the traffic, with all the other cars, it really takes away from the attractiveness,” said RTA CEO Steve Bland.

He said other big changes are also on the table. 

“If you believe we’re going to grow by a million people, tweaks — small improvements, short-term improvements — aren’t going to be anywhere near enough to maintain the quality of life that we’re used to here,” he said.

The 84-page report and a shorter executive summary lay out the RTA’s current challenges, and officials plan to deliver specific proposals in early 2016.