Nashville’s bus system took a funding hit this year, and some routes will be eliminated later this month. But both candidates for mayor say they’d put a lot more money toward bus services next year.
The candidates agree, broadly, that WeGo’s bus service needs to get better.
Councilman John Cooper says that starts with fixes to the little things.
“Bus stops that are appropriate, that have sidewalks where you can get there … all of these kind of crazy things that you go around in Nashville going, ‘We’ve made it hard for the bus system to work,’ ” Cooper says. “We have all these studies. While they’re still fresh, we need to go ahead.”
Cooper fought fiercely against last year’s transit referendum, which proposed four tax increases to pay for a multi-billion buildout of bus and rail service. He called it too costly and not helpful to enough residents.
Cooper has a different idea for funding transit improvements. Instead of a slice of tax money, he says he’d take out government loans next year, worth “hundreds of millions of dollars.”
“And then I think it’s a question of looking carefully at the finances, of figuring out how we in effect pay the interest rate on the bonds that's going to be floated,” Cooper says.
This from a councilman who has spent years raising alarms about Metro’s debt level.
But incumbent David Briley his own contradiction to explain.
He allowed the WeGo transit budget to be cut by more than $8 million this year. Now, he says he’d budget more next year, “to expand the WeGo transit system consistent with the results of the Better Bus study that they’re currently doing.”
Briley is referring to the large “Better Bus” project to reconfigure almost all of the city’s bus routes.
“To look at how we can expand the system in the coming years to make it more user-friendly, more convenient for folks, not just with frequency and duration but also adding more neighborhood transit hubs,” Briley says.
A WeGo spokeswoman tells WPLN that the agency will have details on that plan this fall. Neither the agency nor Briley’s office could say how much those changes might cost.
Briley also has bigger plans, including a rapid bus corridor on Dickerson Pike to Sumner County.
“All of that is moving pretty quickly, although behind the scenes.”
To hear the candidates in debates, they emphasize the differences of their transit plans.
But at least for bus improvements, the ideas are similar. The main question will be finding the money.
Hear more about the candidates' plans for transit, affordable housing and other major city issues in our exclusive, hourlong special on the mayor's race. Find it here.