The pandemic cut Nashville’s bus ridership by half compared to last year. But Mayor John Cooper’s transportation plan is gaining momentum after the Metro Council voted to support his proposal.
His administration says Tuesday’s vote will allow the city to be competitive as they apply for federal grants to try to turn what’s on paper into reality.
“It’s imperative that we understand we are not spending money right now,” Councilmember Joy Styles says. “This is a plan for us to move our transportation forward. We are so far behind.”
The transportation plan aims to create a stronger bus network while relying on old plans that outline how to Metro hopes to add sidewalks and manage traffic flow, among other mobility initiatives.
“Metro’s support of a holistic, comprehensive approach to improving transportation options throughout Davidson County recognizes a long-overdue need for cross-agency coordination as we work to address the mobility challenges created by the unprecedented growth in the region,” WeGo CEO Steve Bland said in a statement after the vote.
The plan, which looks forward 10 to 12 years, relies on state and federal buy-in at first before Metro would consider turning to residents to pitch in with tax dollars. But it’s still early in the process, with few new projects ready to advance.
And some councilmembers questioned the city’s commitment to funding transit locally, while others suggested the need to have more community input.
“I opposed passing the transit plan because the mayor’s office would not ensure that even our current WeGo funding levels would be maintained,” Councilmember Colby Sledge tells WPLN News. “I attempted to defer [the vote] in order to pressure the administration to commit to increased bus funding and service.”
Cooper’s administration has held 11 community listening sessions and other stakeholder meetings. A spokesperson says the last one happened in February. That was before the mayor proposed — and the council approved — a significant property tax increase that is mostly balancing the city’s budget and providing few new services.
Multiple councilmembers made changes to the mayor’s initial plan, including improvements to Central Pike and an additional Music City Star train station at Central Pike and Brandau Road.
Cooper’s plan would increase the frequency of bus trips in nine high-ridership areas, including Charlotte Pike, Nolensville Road and Gallatin Pike. WeGo says those routes have continued to have relatively high ridership throughout the pandemic.