Secours: Can’t get there

Sunday, October 31, 2010 at 11:45pm

Bad public transportation keeps us poor, undereducated and isolated. Is help on the horizon?

Recently, after circling back to my house three times in a row because of a faulty memory, it occurred to me what a luxury and privilege it is to get four blocks from home and be able to turn around to retrieve glasses or a notebook — and still be on time for an appointment.

It is no secret that lack of transportation is a major deterrent to employment across the country. In addition to work, people without cars need to be able to travel to schools, grocery stores, doctor’s offices and recreational events. With limited hours, routes and few bus shelters, the Nashville public transportation system — like in many cities — is far from adequate.

According to Race, Poverty and Environment, a journal for social and environmental justice, most transportation systems in the United States destabilize urban core communities and don’t serve the needs of many ethnic and racial minorities, women, and working poor, young, elderly and disabled people in urban, rural and Native American tribal communities alike.

Considering that only 1.8 percent of Nashville’s population is reported to get on the bus, the moniker “mass transit” seems inaccurate. And in a community that is 67 percent white and 27 percent African-American, it is interesting to note that the majority of bus-takers in Nashville are non-white.

For many, a college education and gainful employment are the only hopes for joining the larger community at major social and cultural events that in Nashville seem to require an automobile.

Sharonda Campbell grew up in the Preston Taylor housing project in Nashville. She relied on public transportation and understands the painful connection between education and access. After one of her older brothers got involved with drugs, Campbell’s family moved from the projects to Antioch, where she felt further isolated from her friends.

Because bus service to Antioch was practically nonexistent, Campbell was unable to maintain relationships with family and friends at Preston Taylor.

Campbell became pregnant during her junior year of high school. She struggled to graduate and then held down several minimum wage jobs while raising her first child. During that time, reliable transportation was an additional stressor on a young woman overwhelmed with responsibilities and not always able to handle the costs of maintaining a car.

“I had to be at work at 8 a.m.,” she said. “I would get up at 4 a.m., get myself ready, walk my kids to my mother’s house so she could watch them and make sure they catch the school bus, while I went to the bus stop to catch the bus for work. The bus came at 6:20 a.m.”

A jaunt that normally takes 20 minutes by car took nearly two hours — daily.

“There were days that I just sat at the bus stop and cried,” she said. “I wanted to give up.”

Fortunately, we have a mayor who not only has a grasp of the issue but is committed to changing the face of public transportation. A former public defender, Karl Dean understands the challenges facing those without access. In June, Dean told The City Paper that mass transit is an essential component of future economic development.

“I am fully committed to this,” Dean said. “If we have to go it alone, we will, but I hope we can make it a more regional effort.”

Luckily, Dean is not alone. In spite of hardships and transportation difficulties, Campbell persisted and got a college degree. Like the mayor, she is committed to improving access — particularly for young black females like herself.

14 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 11/1/10 at 7:04

So tell me again, how becoming pregnant while in high school
is a good story to encourage more tax dollars for public
transportation. Also tell me why it is that 4 out of 10 tickets
on the Lebanon to Nashville train route is paid for by the
taxpayers. This letter along with the Mayor loves the spreading
of the wealth, problem is, there's not as much wealth to
spread around now days. Any extra needs to go "for the
children" in education not more subsidized transportation.

By: bfra on 11/1/10 at 7:16

Dean's actions stipulate, education is the last thing on his list.

By: BigPapa on 11/1/10 at 9:03

Yeah, I think they coulda picked a better example. However the point about turning a 30 min drive into a 2 hour bus ride is spot on. Back when gas was $4 per gallon I looked at taking the bus and just couldn't justify it. Your time is worth something.

By: Tull on 11/1/10 at 10:20

I am sorry but sometimes YOU are responsible for your situation, don't complain about having trouble because you have KIDS while still in high school. Don't get pregnant in high school don’t have kids with a man that you know will not take care of them. This is the message that we need to tell young women not that the system is failing you because you can't afford a car.

By: craigph on 11/1/10 at 11:02

These letters are such a remarkable window into the conservative mind, which seems to take such satisfaction in declaring that certain people are banished for life from their list of people to whom they are willing to extend forgiveness, sympathy, empathy or any shred of human regard. It is not denying the value of personal responsibility to take Sharonda's story as a telling case study in why it's so hard to do that bootstrap thing that conservatives seem so sure of themselves is possible for anyone. It is not going to turn you into a communist transvestite to regard Sharonda's story or the issue Molly writes about with some nuance and thoughtfulness. Pretty hard to imagine a world where one lapse of judgement (or more likely one instance of being victim to a man who said he'd love and take care of her forever) gets you kicked out of the Golden Rule Club. Y'all have daughters? Is that how you'd regard them?

Thank you Molly for the work you do and the stories you tell. They help me understand the complexities of real life and real people.

Craig H

By: budlight on 11/1/10 at 11:32

Craig, you need help if Molly is the only way you can "understand the complexities of real life and real people". Are you living in la-la land or what? Real life and real people are probably surrounding you. You must be too uppity to see or feel them. Shame on you. And the bootstrap "thingie" works if you work it, kinda like aa, na, ga and . . . you get my drift, swift?

By: BigPapa on 11/1/10 at 2:08

ohhh craig I think we know the communist transvestite is here.

By: DREIFMA on 11/1/10 at 11:21

I am taxed for driving my vehicles. Sales Tax, License Tax, Emissions Fee, Gasoline tax to name few. Its astounding that people expect others to subsidize a transportation system they dont use. If you cant get transportation near where you live. Move to where the work is or where the transportation is better. I am totally sick of people who make poor life choices telling others to make up for them.

By: labiscuit on 11/2/10 at 7:40

The point of that story is the reality that ppl make dumb moves. If you don't have access to "normal stuff" like a car, it is hell getting around Nashville or surrounding areas, (Brentwood, Franklin, Antioch, Murfreesboro, etc.) I lived in Atlanta for 2.5 years. They have a rapid transit system. Nashville has bus service to certain areas of town certain hours of the day. Mt. Juliet has a train that goes back and forth from Mr. Juliet to downtown Nashville.

I live in LaVergne, work at Vanderbilt, don't have to be there until 7. However, I have to leave home before 5 to catch the bus that leaves from HH to get downtown by 6, IF we can make that connection to the #7 Green Hills. There are school children who also ride the #15 HH bus at 5:30 a.m. as well. MTA will not supply a long bus for the weekday but will for the weekend -- go figure. We are crammed like sardines.
On the #7 there are soooo many children going to Hillsboro, there's almost a fight to get a seat. Oh, and let's not forget the joy of hearing "MF this", "f*ck you, f*ck her, f*ck him," and other expletives at 6 o'clock in the morning. What is the point of having earphones for Ipods when you can still hear their music.? The #96 no longer leaves M'boro, Smyrna/LaVergne at a time when I can ride with other polite adults, so I have to go to HH to catch the bus. After 2 months of this, I had enough. It no longer mattered that we can ride free. I'd rather put gas in my car and leave home at a decent time to get to work by 6:30 and if I want to hear "MF'er," or "f*ck you," I'll say it myself. Public transportation in Nashville sucks.

By: JeffF on 11/2/10 at 8:36

Public transportation is important, but my city is guilty of wasting valuable and finite public transportation funding on projects first designed to redevelop downtown instead of improving transportation for all Nashvillians. Once that money is gone the next strategy is to get more money from our neighbors for apparently more downtown-centric transportation projects.

Bus service to Antioch is indeed woeful and difficult. It connects its citizens to the rest of Nashville's (jobs and schools) only after going first through downtown. Downtown only has 8% of Nashville's jobs and has only 1 higher education facility yet is the termination point for nearly 100% of all bus lines. This is insanity at it peak. The only thing more insane would be to supplement the 100% of bus lines with billions of dollars in rail and streetcar developments going to the same downtown.

I am only comfortable in a regional approach to this issue only when we in Nashville start acting like we are part of a region. We have already screwed up by making our downtown "castle" the center of all infrastructure spending. We will not get a chance to do the same with the entire region. We will be told by our neighbors (the one voting Republican in large numbers today) to pound sand.

By: localboy on 11/3/10 at 8:45

"They help me understand the complexities of real life and real people." You don't need the author for that - just take the bus.

By: Kosh III on 11/5/10 at 10:24

Buses going to a downtown hub are the most cost-effective system. Cross-town buses may be effective on a limited basis but there are very few folks who need to go from say, Madison to Hickory Hollow at 1pm.
MTA would have more cross-town service if it was feasible. It isn't yet.
labiscut. There are few double buses and some were ruined in the flood. Still, it certainly sounds like it's needed on that route. OR maybe the school system could bus the kids instead of inflicting them on the rest of us.

By: JeffF on 11/5/10 at 1:48

Kosh you thinking is just like that of the MTA. Do not get caught up in the trap of thinking of bus transportation as the movement between two points. A crosstown route is the movement along a bunch of points with people getting on and off throughout the route. The current way of thinking is that a route is a collector where people get on at the various points in order to travel to the same terminus.

A crosstown route is justified as long as its stops are all treated as personal route terminations. Someone getting on at an Antioch stop more than likely does not need to get to Green Hills or Bellevue, they may need to get just as far as Nippers Corner or Franklin Road. A web would also ensure that they can get off at certain stops and transfer to another line for a short distance.

Right now that person getting on at a stop on Murfreesboro Road in the Antioch area is going to travel on the 15 or 96 spoke routes all the way to downtown to get anywhere. People would be much better served with a web than a hub-and-spoke.

By: labiscuit on 11/9/10 at 5:31

JeffF, yes...N'ville would be better served with web than hub-spoke.

Kosh, someone told me that children who attend school out of their zone are responsible for transportation to their school - they cannot ride Metro school buses and that's why so many are on MTA buses at 5:30 a.m. going to Hillsboro from Antioch. MTA did not provide double buses for the #15 on weekdays before the flood. I don't know what their excuse was. I called, sent e-mail and completed a survey. No change. That's when I decided to drive my car. I read an article some time ago in the Tennessean? that we can't get train service b/c those rails are dedicated to CRX or whatever the name of the railroad is.