State legislation moves mass transit dedicated funding forward

Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 1:23am

State legislation to allow the four major urban areas in Tennessee to create dedicated a funding source for mass transit was unanimously approved by the state House and Senate this week — a move advocates are calling a historic step forward for mass transportation.

The legislation was approved unanimously by both the Senate and the House.

“[Wednesday’s] vote was a huge step forward for transportation in Middle Tennessee and for regionalism,” Nashville Mayor Karl Dean said. “As I have said all along, this is a critical component of creating true mass transit in the region and for making us eligible to receive necessary federal funds for things such as light rail and commuter rail. I appreciate the Legislature’s support of this effort.”

The enabling legislation clears the way for a dedicated funding source to be created for mass transit. The unknown funding source would be approved either by voter referendum or by the local legislative body. The legislation had support of all the city and county mayors in the Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga and Memphis areas.

Greg Adkins, the president of the Tennessee Public Transportation Association, called the unanimous votes “the biggest thing that’s happened for public transportation in Tennessee in decades.”

Adkins, who also serves as the District 26 Metro Council member, said the enabling legislation was necessary in order to expand and improve mass transit options in the major metropolitan areas.

“Our region has sat around and talked about this for a long time,” Adkins said. “It took a lot of great minds and really hard working people to make this happen.”

Rep. Janis Sontany (D-Nashville) said improving mass transit is an issue that bleeds into environmental concerns and economic development.

“We’re very tuned in to all the issues about air quality, so for environmental sustainability and also for economic growth, this was incredibly important,” Sontany said.

The next step is to determine what the dedicated funding source will be, and Adkins said that decision should come with extensive public input. Dean has said publicly many times that improving mass transit is the top issue he hears about from young Nashville residents.

The Nashville Area Metro Planning Organization is developing a regional mass transit master plan, which will be completed later this year or early next year. That plan will serve as a starting point for identifying dedicated funding options.

“The next step is to develop a plan that is appropriate for the region — one that is focused on a better future, but remains fiscally responsible for today,” MPO Director Michael Skipper said. “Only then will we be able to have an idea of what it will take to implement new services and how we might pay for them.

“Working with citizens and the business community, we hope to pull that plan together before next Summer, with discussions for how to move forward following shortly thereafter.”


19 Comments on this post:

By: idgaf on 5/21/09 at 12:21

Createing dedicated mass transit funding is guarenteeing that the money will be wasted as was the money on the Nashville Star. We don't have the population or the central work place to support just the operational expence never mind building it.

In a fantasy word yes mass transit is fine but when you have to throw taxpayers money down a bottomless pit it is not.

With just the operational loses of the Star it would be cheaper to pay the people not to come to work.

Repeating the same thing expecting a different result is the definition of insanity according to Einstein.

Money wasted here will have to be made up someplace else compounding the tax burden.

By: idgaf on 5/21/09 at 12:47

“Our region has sat around and talked about this for a long time,” Adkins said. “It took a lot of great minds and really hard working people to make this happen.”

A bunch of morons would be more like it.

Adkins wants to buy the land for the CC when there is no way they are going to finance it with revenue bonds too.

By: nashbeck on 5/21/09 at 1:11

I am so happy to read this. Mass transit is much needed in Nashville. I want to implement mass transit in Davidson County. Lightrail from the airport through west end, downtown, green hills would be great. Streetcars in the downtown through west end would be fantastic as well. I think Bus Rapid Transit along the interstates would be great if they connected to a well run mass transit system within Nashville.

The price of oil is rising again, and it is just plain stupid not to prepare for our future. Why spend so many tax dollars on more and more roads, whether it be repaving existing roads or destroying the environment to create new roads is beyond me. Nashville needs to be as centrally built as possible, and public transportation greatly helps this cause.

Thank you state legislation!

By: Kosh III on 5/21/09 at 6:41

This is a great first step.
The next step is difficult: what source of funding? Sales taxes are an easy answer but unreliable, property taxes are politically untenable, an extra gas tax would also be easy to do but is also an unstable source. What else?

Rail is NOT the answer, buses are the best solution. Rail is too expensive, too long to implement. BRT along the major routes and express service from the suburbs and exurbs is the way to go. More buses, more often on more routes.

By: JeffF on 5/21/09 at 7:18

any plan focused on a fixed hub-and-spoke transit system is 100% guaranteed to fail. Nashville does not operate or will ever operate as a central core city. The focus on getting people to the core then have them "connect" to another modal is goign to frustrate the majority of people who live and work in one of the many non-downtown neighborhoods. This money should be used to create a transportation network web with buses (and a very small number of trolley or small trains) that a majority of the Metro area can actually use in a timely manner. This will mean purchasing buses of differing sizes and placing them on routes based on demand.

Will downtown and its paid for leadership (ours) even think about such a plan. Probably not. This will be given to the group with the sexiest, most absurd mass transit plan. So we will watch bus transportation wither while Nashville becomes the next city with an expensive, sexy, and foundering monorail/light rail/wide area trolley and still congested roads. No city in the 20th and now the 21st century has "trained" themselves out of their transit problems. They have simply poured money into continually losing and minimally used systems. Even the cities with the famous trains still have packed roads and highways because of the inherent limitations of a system that is forever fixed in place and small in scale with almost zero expansion capabilities.

We have plenty of roads, use them in the plan. Build the best bus system in the country.

By: Dragon on 5/21/09 at 7:45

"The next step is to determine what the dedicated funding source will be, "

A new tax is born. Although the new tax should be one that grows with increased use of mass transit, I bet it will be applied to something that should shrink with increased mass transit. A gasoline tax, wheel tax, toll tax, etc. will probably be instituted to "incentivize" the population to stop driving and start taking the bus.

By: house_of_pain on 5/21/09 at 8:45

I agree with JeffF & Dragon. The fair thing to do would be to tax the ones who use public transportation. Probably won't happen, though. Buses & trains are not an option for many of us. I'm getting tired of paying for government-run programs that are of no use to me.

By: JeffF on 5/21/09 at 8:54

I don't think you do agree with me. I didn't call for just paying for a system with fares, just that the fares and additional tax revenues be used on something intelligent, reasonable, and useful. The roads are built and maintained with just gasoline tax user revenues, why should public transit be held to that limit?

On the other hand, The Star goes too far with almost all the cost coming from taxpayers instead of fare riders. A bus system would place more of the costs on the riders but would have backing (especially on capital purchases) by the taxpayers.

Bus systems also do not tend to have evangelist who turn into managers making six figure salaries running the systems they pushed so hard for. The next time the snake oil salesman starts banging the drum for monorail, maglev, or some other train based system remember he is trying to create his next high paying job.

By: JeffF on 5/21/09 at 8:56

I left a "not" out of the third sentence.

The roads are NOT built and maintained with just gasoline tax user revenue, why should public transit be held to that limit?

Sorry for the glaring typo.

By: house_of_pain on 5/21/09 at 9:04

Sorry, I wasn't clear. I agree with you about the trains.
IMO, there are already too many noisy, traffic-halting freight trains.

By: house_of_pain on 5/21/09 at 9:10

I agree with Dragon about the extra tax coming from drivers.
JeffF, even those who do not drive benefit from the roads.

By: PromosFriend on 5/21/09 at 9:21

When considering whether non riders should help foot the bill for whatever mass transit program is instituted, one should think about who benefits from the service. Obviously riders would benefit since they wouldn't have the costs associated with driving and parking their own vehicles, not to mention the hassle of driving in rush hour traffic. So, who else benefits? Pretty much everybody to one degree or another. If (and of course that is a big "if") mass transit works, then we would possibly see cleaner air, less road congestion, less road maintenance needed, more properties available for businesses that hire more than the dozen or so people it takes to operate parking garages, etc. It is my bet that we can come up with far more positives than negatives. The main challenge would be in deciding who benefits most, thereby requiring them to pay the most, and in deciding what system (or combination of systems) will work the best.

By: Dragon on 5/21/09 at 9:31

I would also be good to know which existing mass transit systems are being operated at a profit and which are subsidized by taxpayer funding. The tens of billions of dollars given to AMTRAK each year is an example which should not be imitated.

By: Magnum on 5/21/09 at 9:57

I would stop short of identifying reduced costs associated with driving and parking as a benefit to the mass transit system Promo (that is with regard to the current Music City Star setup). Comparing current gas prices to monthly rail pass prices, it is cheaper to drive in most cases. Of course, you still have to deal with congestion, but that is more of a preservation of sanity issue.

By: JeffF on 5/21/09 at 10:12

No transit system operates at a profit. Transit systems are operated by governments and governments are not allowed to profit from providing real government services. Roads are operated at a loss. Sidewalks are operated at a loss, airports do not make money just cover costs (if even that). Tax money rolling in and being used does not create revenue for profit purposes it is a subsidy that would have to be paid back before the calculating of profit would even begin.

Transit is a duty of government. Government enacts fees and taxes to provide its services. Our only gripe should be that the transit be run effectively and efficiently, helping the most people for the least amount of tax and fee money. Trains do not fulfill the efficiency AND effectiveness requirements. Buses using the streets we have already built do.

By: Dragon on 5/21/09 at 10:17

"Transit is a duty of government. "

Have the limo pick me up at 4. And, BTW, Obama should enact a government takeover of AMTRAK.

By: dnewton on 5/21/09 at 11:52

What about a room tax or a convention center tax? I noticed that TDOT is planning to spend more money on Transit than on the Interstate in 2009. The fact that this is crazy should be obvious on its face, but I don't think anybody is really going to get it until we are all riding bicycles.

The only way to fund Transit, especially trains is to tax non-users.

By: idgaf on 5/21/09 at 12:36

The buses are losing money now. How much more are you willing to lose? How much more taxes are you willing to pay?

As stated before Just the operating loss for the Star could pay the people that ride it to stay home and we would lose less money. Where do you think you will get all the riders for all this public transportation? If everyone that works downtown rode (which is a fantasy) they still couldn't pay just the operating expences never mind the cost.


By: LoboSolo on 11/4/09 at 2:22

The Las Vegas Monorail has a operating profit and I think so does the Seattle Monorail (at least it used to before the accident).

Always question authority. It drives those who think they have it insane.