A survey of Nashville bus riders finds many are deeply dissatisfied with the current service, and an advocacy group is calling on Metro leaders to increase transit funding for an array of improvements.
Survey results made public Wednesday take the form of a 20-page report card.
The overall grade for the city’s WeGo bus service is a C. Riders gave low marks for:
- the frequency of buses
- the limited hours they run at night
- deficiencies in safety and convenience — especially a lack of bus stop benches, shelters and crosswalks
The group Music City Riders United conducted the survey of 619 riders in late 2018 (view the full report here).
“Our city’s underserviced public bus system creates multiple barriers for transit-dependent riders, who are largely low-income residents,” the group writes. “When the public transit system is not working and pedestrians are placed in danger, the necessities of everyday life are denied.”
The survey draws specific attention to what Music City Riders United see as a sharp contrast between Nashville’s overall growth and prosperity versus the condition of its bus service, which serve many blue collar workers.
“Nashville’s economy is booming, but the influx of money into the city has exacerbated rising racial and economic inequities in terms of housing, wages, and transit options,” the group writes.
In large part, the survey echoes prior research by the Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority, now known as WeGo.
In 2015, after collecting thousands of comments, the MTA’s self-assessment documented widespread frustration with the bus system’s hours of operation and frequency.
Nashville has made some bus service improvements. And a 2017 work plan created by the mayor’s office largely agrees with the priorities in the new survey by Music City Riders United.
In response to the survey, the MTA said in a statement to WPLN that it “shares the view … that Nashville should have more and better bus service.” The agency notes it has built nearly 100 new bus shelters and re-instated free transfers for bus riders.
Specific Routes Graded
Nine specific bus routes get grades in the new survey, ranging from a B down to a D+, based on 10 factors. (Only routes that had at least 50 responses were graded.)
The most harshly graded is the Antioch Express Route 38X, which was dinged for low weekday frequency, insufficient hours (ending at 6:42 p.m.), nonexistent weekend hours and a lack of shelters, benches and crosswalks.
“Antioch is one of the major cities in Metro Nashville where residents are moving into after facing displacement from the urban core,” the report states, noting high poverty and minority populations served by the route.
Similarly, the Golden Valley Route 41 into Northeast Nashville earned a C- for similar reasons and with similar demographics. The testimonial of a high school student in the report critiques Route 41 for forcing him to wake two hours earlier to make it to school by bus.
Meanwhile, the West End/Bellevue Route 5, serving a higher-income area of Nashville, is given a B.
For bus rider and activist Angelique Johnson, taking her bus from Bordeaux can be “nearly impossible” at times. Route 22 that serves that area was graded a C+.
Johnson, who is legally blind, said her primary bus stop is next to a utility pole without a bench or shelter.
“It’s been really hard to cross the streets. Sometimes, I have to call people to help me cross,” she said. “We noticed, you know, you go into a working class neighborhood … most of the bus stops were deeply in ditches. If you were in a wheelchair or something, it would be really difficult to get there.”
Funding Sought, But Not Promised
The Music City Riders United appeal to leaders to provide increased funding for later and more frequent bus service, and to pursue a goal of shelters at all bus stops, as well as more protected crosswalks.
Jack Wiley, an organizer with the group, which is part of Workers Dignity, acknowledges that some of the requests would be expensive for Metro.
“It’s really a question of priorities,” he said.
The mayor’s office, which had not seen the findings Wednesday, noted that the most recent capital spending plan included $85 million for streets, sidewalks, greenways, traffic management and transit.
“We do concur that public transportation in Nashville would benefit from additional resources being allocated,” said spokesman Thomas Mulgrew.