Nashville will officially eliminate eight bus routes and reduce hours or redraw the maps on more than a dozen others, as well as increase the cost of a bus ride from $1.70 to $2.
The changes adopted Thursday afternoon respond to a coming budget shortfall of $8.7 million.
The precise changes were informed by a study that had already begun to analyze poorly performing routes, and are meant to “impact as few customers as humanly possible,” as transit board Vice Chairwoman Janet Miller said before the vote.
In all, bus service hours will be reduced by about 7%, meaning some 7,000 daily riders may need to adjust their travel plans or lose service altogether. The transit agency says 78% of riders will experience no change, and 2% will totally lose service.
Some cuts, however, will be slightly less severe than initially proposed.
City bus riders filed some 600 comments during recent public meetings to defend certain bus routes. Most didn’t make a difference. But on six routes, WeGo is responding by protecting some service hours.
The biggest example is that even as WeGo eliminates its two free circulator routes downtown, the agency has agreed to create a new shuttle bus. That to-be-named route will carry passengers from the Music City Star train station to a few downtown spots — like state government offices — that are used by large groups of transit commuters.
Other small changes based on public feedback include:
- saving Sunday service on the 25 Midtown
- retaining midday service on the 77 Thompson Connector
- tweaking the Route 4 path to reach Gallatin Road
- extending the span of hours on Routes 8 and 17 that serve the 8th Avenue South corridor
- tweaking the Route 76 path in Madison
The increase of the bus fare to $2 was also modified in response to public comments. A smaller increase had initially been considered, but WeGo said that the larger jump would generate an extra $310,000, allowing some of the softer cuts described above.
Detailed changes and maps are available at WeGoTransit.com.
Reductions to Nashville’s routes will happen in late September.
Before that, on Aug. 2, the other change is that the standard bus fare will increase to $2 per ride. The cost of using AccessRide, which is an on-demand service for disabled trasit users, will also increase to a base cost of $3.70.
In front of the board on Thursday, more than two dozen bus riders spoke about the impact of the changes.
Several themes emerged. Most who spoke — while unhappy about the budget shortfall and cuts — did have strong praise for how WeGo carried out its choices.
Many blasted officials for the budget situation that left WeGo with a shortfall of $8.7 million, and said they would support a dedicated funding stream for transit.
“I don’t understand cutting a public transportation system in a growing city,” said bus rider Sheila Hanson.
Still, riders described how even small route changes or fare increases will force tough decisions.
Nancy Lee Holmes, of South Nashville, said her budget is limited and she worries about the fare increase.
“So now I’m faced with another crisis … am I going to have to cut this part of church out … or groceries?” she asked. “The only solution is God and prayer.”
As part of the changes, WeGo was required by the federal Civil Rights Act to analyze how minority and low-income groups would be affected. WeGo found that eliminating eight routes would impact just 5% of riders — and that the changes have less impact on minority and low-income residents. In summarizing other public feedback, WeGo said many riders wanted service to remain free along Jefferson Street — which is not happening — and that there were widespread requests for better pedestrian walkways near bus stops.