Nashville’s bus service is headed toward cuts for the first time in a decade. There are lots of details — as more than two dozen routes will be impacted — but the reasons behind the cuts, and how they are being carried out, can be condensed to a few key points.
WPLN’s Jason Moon Wilkins and Tony Gonzalez discuss the changes in the audio story above, which is summarized in what follows.
What’s Causing These Cuts?
A year after Nashville considered — and rejected — a huge mass transit expansion, bus service is now headed toward a 7% reduction in service hours.
At issue are several funding factors.
Metro funding has been flat three years in a row, while WeGo says its costs have increased. In addition, a $3.8 million reduction in state funds will not be replaced by local Metro dollars.
Bus ridership, which is slightly up this year, is not a factor.
How Severe Are The Cuts?
Nashville had been slowly expanding its bus routes since 2013, with hours up about 32%.
In contrast, these cuts will eliminate nine routes and reduce or alter more than 20 other routes.
WeGo estimates roughly 7,000 daily riders are going to need to change their routines or work a little harder to get where they’re going.
In addition, the cost to ride is going up.
How Did WeGo Settle On These Changes?
In many cases, data is driving the decisions. Of note, WeGo is avoiding cuts to its most popular routes, like on the major pikes.
The transit agency was already doing a study, so its leaders had identified which bus routes had low ridership, which struggled to stay on schedule, and which riders would have a chance to shift to another nearby option after the changes.
In some cases, WeGo is re-drawing the routes to help pick up some of those riders.
What’s The Long-Term Impact?
While this moment is difficult for WeGo, some of the route changes may make the overall system more efficient. For example, some crosstown service — which doesn’t go into downtown — is being created, as riders have been requesting.
The big question is whether Nashville will alter how it funds transit. The referendum last year would have designated certain tax dollars specifically for transit.
Some officials say that kind of change is still possible at some point. And some transit supporters say this year’s cuts could show how important a dedicated funding source would be.