Nashville MTA looks to expand to accommodate city’s growth

(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Mass transit is at the center of Mayor Barry’s plan to fix Nashville’s huge traffic issues.

Part of the plan involves giving new momentum to an old idea, city buses, and there’s hope taxpayers will get on board.

“It’s been pretty amazing here. The skyline changes every day, and it seems like the traffic does as well,” Metro Transit Authority CEO Steve Bland told News 2.

It’s inevitable. As our city grows, so does our traffic.

“We really need to do much more with mass transit and track much larger market share for the region, frankly, to be able to retain its quality of life,” Bland said.

Metro Transit Authority CEO Steve Bland (Photo: WKRN)

Bland works to stay ahead of the growing problem. Among the recent changes to the MTA system in Nashville are new services, more frequent services, more than 100 new waiting shelters and new technology.

“We’ve implemented what we call bus rapid transit light service, BRT light, in four corridors, and in those four corridors we’ve seen substantial ridership gains,” he explained.

MORE: Plan to upgrade MTA bus system includes green light priority

Bland says around 35,000 people a day ride the Metro bus, an increase of 25 percent over the past 10 years.

“You save gas. I mean, it’s easy for you to get on the bus,” explained Terry Williams, who regularly rides the bus. “I think they can expand it a little bit more, especially the express buses out of Antioch.”

Bland works to cater to riders like Williams, but he knows there is still a long road ahead.

(Photo: WKRN)

“Beyond the level of service or what kind of bus you are riding, it’s the entire experience of door to door. How do I get to a bus stop or a train station, parking lot availability and then while I’m on that vehicle, what’s the experience and when I get off how do I get to my destination,” he told News 2.

The MTA is going to beef up its budget, asking for $7 million more in next year’s operating budget and $20 million more for capital spending.

“Anything’s a possibility when there’s funding for it, so we’ve really appreciated the active involvement of the community in essentially saying we need more service cause uh we couldn’t agree more,” said Bland.

Mayor Barry estimates Nashville will grow by nearly one million residents by 2035 and has addressed transportation problems.

RELATED: Mayor announces 3-year plan to combat Nashville’s transportation challenges

Her three year plan, “Moving the Music City,” calls for an increase in MTA bus service, including extending current routes and increasing the frequency of service.

(Photo: WKRN)

The plan also says MTA will purchase 31 new hybrid-electric buses in 2017, which will replace current diesel-fueled buses.

“It’s a start. It’s a small start. It’s a very ambitious program. Last September, both the MTA and RTA boards adopted a 25-year long range plan that would essentially quintuple the level of service and ridership in the region; including some fairly aggressive capital investments,” Bland explained.

A transit funding referendum will appear on the Metro ballot in 2018 where Nashvillians will decide whether they want to fund the proposed transportation improvements.

“I think that the time is right in Nashville. Obviously people are always very careful with their money, but one of the number one issues that’s recognized in this region pole after pole is mobility, traffic congestion, the ability to get around and related issues like the access for people to get to jobs like the lower income neighborhoods into this core of the city.” said Bland.

He says you can expect more changes in October, including additional services and a new fare structure that will make it cheaper and easier for people to ride.

For details on all the proposed improvements to public transportation and information on the proposed light rail system, click here.

Follow our Nashville 2017 coverage about the city’s growth, the issues that come with it, and how people are tackling them.

Watch our News 2 Town Hall Meeting: Trains, Planes and Automobiles at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.