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The Transportation and Mass Transit Megathread


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Is there only 1 train? I thought there must have been more than that..

I know in STL after a Cards game.. riding their rail system is always packed.. and people just simply wait for the next train to come - which may be 30 minutes. But yeah, waiting in the rain would have sucked!

There are two active trains, and one reserve. However, in this case, i guess they only had the plans(and staff) to run one train based upon expectations. They only run one set for other special events, including Titans games, so i guess they assumed one would be enough. You know what they say about assumptions.

Regardless of the fact that it's an embarrassment for the MCS, it's still a positive sign that so many people opted to ride it. I just hope the sour taste doesn't last to long.

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Anybody read the opinions section of the tennessean's today? I totally agree with what they're saying. We need regional cooperation and a state and local funding source whether it be a reallocation or a totally new source of funding and we need it now. Charlotte voted to have a half cent tax increase and they're reaping the benefits with greater quality of life and real options to avoid highway congestion. The RTA director did the math and it comes out to 50 dollars a year that each person is paying for it. Most people pay more than that to fill up the tank nowadays. I would be more than willing to pay this. I'm sure just about everyone would be if it meant getting light rail or brt here. Heck, I would pay more if it meant getting both here faster

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Dedicated funding would boost region

I agree as well... $50 per year is not that big of a deal... if it solves the funding question, and allows for expansion to continue in the very near future.

IMO, a good next step in the MCS rail line would be to add a connection between Opryland & the airport. It could probably fairly easily connect into the current line already in place, and I think it would produce a benefit for tourism, which is one of our top industries.

I could see big promotions from the visitors center involving the fact that tourists can come here and never have to drive anywhere they want to go.

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Keep in mind that under the current rules that govern how the FTA provides federal funding for capital costs to build a transit line, there has to be a local funding source to not only cover a portion of what it takes to build the line, but also operational costs once it is up and running. Cases like the Music City Star are an exception to this rule because it cost a relatively small amount of money to build. In comparison light rail is running around $75M/mile to build and BRT somewhere around $45M-$75M/mile (BRT is a lot more expensive to operate though)

Most places that have built rail recently did so because the local municipality came up with some sort of local transit sales tax and/or the state also kicked in a percentage.

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I believe the article said that ridership has been increasing. Clearly people have a knowledge of the train, or this problem of over selling would never have occured. The problem seems to be the blind ticket sales, which I'm sure they'll quickly fix after this mess. That should have been a glaring problem from the start.

Just about every mass transit system loses money and requires subsides from local/state/federal government to run. The way I see it, that's no different from the government paying to build and maintain roads, instead of having toll roads everywhere. It's all a matter of prospective. Properly run mass transit is much more fuel efficient, timely and better for the environment. You simply have to have the right critical mass for it to work.

I hope you see the massive gap in logic you took with this post. My guess is you will not and neither will the other backers of this boondoggle.

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I hope you see the massive gap in logic you took with this post. My guess is you will not and neither will the other backers of this boondoggle.

Perhaps you'd like to point out "the massive gap?" I don't expect to sway your opinion any, but I will lay my opinion out in more detail.

Once again, the government subsidizing mass transit is no different than the government subsidizing road/highway building. Just because government subsidization of road building is more ubiquitous, does not make it "more correct." Anyone can use mass transportation just as anyone can use the roads, (provided they have a vehicle). Also, the issue shouldn't be viewed as a zero sum game -- More people using mass transit means fewer people on the roads and less traffic.

The state of Tennessee spent 825 million dollars on Transportation in the 2007-2008 budget. The Federal Government matched that with another 941 million dollars. ( http://www.tennesseeanytime.org/govfiles/0708StateBudget.pdf ) That's nearly 1.8 billion spent on transportation in the state of Tennessee in one year. The majority of that money goes to road construction and maintenance. And here you are complaining that this extremely lean mass transportation system is a "money pit" or a "boondoggle." The collective 2006-2009 budget for this system is roughly 6 million dollars (or 2 million a year). A large portion of that money comes from the Federal Government and passenger fees. I say again, it's all a matter of perspective.

An urban area that has less traffic, less pollution, and which is easier for visitors/locals to navigate is in everyone's best interest.

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Well, Samsonh, if you're going to contend that road money is paid for entirely by gas taxes, then you are mistaken. It's estimated that gas taxes would need to be around $2 for roads to be self sufficient.

From the Texas department of transportation:

http://www.keeptexasmoving.org/index.php/n...r_Themselves%3F

Applying this methodology, revealed that no road pays for itself in gas taxes and fees. For example, in Houston, the 15 miles of SH 99 from I-10 to US 290 will cost $1 billion to build and maintain over its lifetime, while only generating $162 million in gas taxes. That gives a tax gap ratio of .16, which means that the real gas tax rate people would need to pay on this segment of road to completely pay for it would be $2.22 per gallon. This is just one example, but there is not one road in Texas that pays for itself based on the tax system of today. Some roads pay for about half their true cost, but most roads we have analyzed pay for considerably less. To conclude, in the SH 99 example, since the traffic volume for that road doesn't generate enough fuel tax revenue to pay for it, revenues from other parts of the state must be used to build and maintain this corridor segment. The same is true across the state, meaning that, as revealed by the tax gap analysis, overall revenues are not sufficient to meet the state
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Awesome how you use one specific road in Texas to try to prove your point. Really. The users of roads pay a much larger burden of the actual cost than the users of mass transit. Thats a fact that cannot be argued, especially with the Music City Star. Allow the free market to develop mass transit solutions and they will be far more cost effective. And trust me, when gas hits $10 a gallon, it will happen. As is we have a system that has far fewer users than the backers predicted and is losing more money than they had anticipated. If you want to continue with this program fine, but please don't ask me to help you pay for it.

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^As much as gasoline costs today, the consumers of it do not pay the fair cost as it is heavily subsidized in the United States. If the fair market were to apply to gasoline, then the oil companies would have to buy and pay for the federal land where they drill for oil, they would have to pay the military that secures the supply in the very unstable areas of the world where much of the oil comes from, they would have to pay for the military that also protects their ships in transit, they would have to pay for the port facilities where the oil comes in and they would also have to pay a fair share of income taxes on their profits. And there other tax credits, tax abatements etc, they receive on refineries, transmission lines, and usage of other federal services to get this oil to the consumer.

The money to do this all comes courtesy of the American taxpayer. I would expect that you would see gasoline more in the $8 - $12 gallon now if oil were allowed to be operated by just the "free market".

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^As much as gasoline costs today, the consumers of it do not pay the fair cost as it is heavily subsidized in the United States. If the fair market were to apply to gasoline, then the oil companies would have to buy and pay for the federal land where they drill for oil, they would have to pay the military that secures the supply in the very unstable areas of the world where much of the oil comes from, they would have to pay for the military that also protects their ships in transit, they would have to pay for the port facilities where the oil comes in and they would also have to pay a fair share of income taxes on their profits. And there other tax credits, tax abatements etc, they receive on refineries, transmission lines, and usage of other federal services to get this oil to the consumer.

The money to do this all comes courtesy of the American taxpayer. I would expect that you would see gasoline more in the $8 - $12 gallon now if oil were allowed to be operated by just the "free market".

You do realize how wrong the majority of this post is right?

Let me dissect and prove wrong another one of your posts Monsoon, then you can leave the thread and never give a rebuttal because you are embarrassed like last time. America consumes roughly 20 million barrels a day in oil. We produce between 6-8 million barrels a day depending on which source you take. This number is drastically reduced by restrictions on where oil companies can drill in America. As a result the price is dramatically inflated because liberals in Congress will not allow the free market to work.

Your comment that the US military is securing hostile areas and US oil companies are then making a huge profit lets me know you have zero knowledge of how the international oil market works. American oil companies and their shareholders are harmed dramatically by foreign governments that place huge limitations and burdens upon them. Look into any of the large oil companies contracts with developing and emerging countries that have large reserves. The American government helps them very little compared to how much foreign governments hurt them. You spout rhetoric and then don't research to find the truth.

You then talk about the fact that oil companies aren't taxed enough. Is this a joke? Exxon paid $30 billion in tax in FY 07. Their net income after tax was $40 billion. That isn't a fair amount? The people who risked money to bring you and other consumers oil deserve to earn a return on their investment. IMO the amount of tax they pay currently is absurdly high, but who knows, I actually know something about finance and economics. I just consider a 40% tax rate to be absurd. I bet you don't know this fact because you have never seeked it out and only listen to what the media tells you: The US has the 2nd highest corporate tax rate in the world. Here's another hint: When companies are highly taxed it makes the goods you and I buy more expensive. Aren't you glad the government is looking out for us?

You also mention that refineries receive tax breaks. You act like refineries are profit machines. Do some research on profit margins and what the high cost of an input does to them. Realize how dumb you sound and come back to us. Also please do some research into how difficult the government makes it to run a refinery. Then you might understand why it has been 30+ years since a new refinery was built in the US. But its more likely you will hate what you read and ignore it, and maintain the same biased and ignorant views and ideas you currently have. Its your choice

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I'm not all that interested in getting into one of these protracted message board battles with someone who phrases everything as if he/she were talking down to a small child rather than another educated adult.

The last points I'll (re)make are:

a) You're missing the point of my post -- My point wasn't from where the money comes, but rather the huge difference in scale that we're talking about. (If two million a year on a forward looking mass transit system, that is still gaining its legs, is a "money pit," then what is 1.8 billion a year on roads?)

b) You still didn't point out my "massive gap" in logic and I still don't see it.

c) Regardless of where the funding comes from, (these trains run off of diesel which in turn has a gas tax factored into its price), a healthy mass transit system is a keystone of a vibrant, navigable, and progressive metropolitan area. The systems cut down on traffic, pollution, foreign oil consumption, and to a lesser degree sprawl.

We as a country hemorrhage hundreds of billions of dollars to foreign countries every year in the form of a trade imbalance. This is largely due to our importation of massive amounts of oil. This needs to be changed for many reasons: economic, national security, environmental, and otherwise. This isn't a problem that we can drill our way out of, and convincing ourselves that it is will only prolong the problem. Even if all our land was available for drilling, it would take many years for those projects to come online and we still wouldn't be able to produce the amount of oil we use. The remaining oil sources in this country are in very deep and/or remote areas, are of lower quality, and will be quite expensive to extract.

Mass transit systems are one important piece of the puzzle for reducing our dependence on foreign oil, therefore I'm a fervent supporter of smartly expanding our current systems as well as establishing new ones. I've yet to hear an argument against mass transit systems that isn't cherry picked beyond belief, nonsensical and generally incoherent. You can cherry pick about where the funding comes from, but I still say the overarching idea isn't a waste of money -- or "boondoggle." It's a smart step and based on a firm foundation of facts and reality.

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I'm not all that interested in getting into one of these protracted message board battles with someone who phrases everything as if he/she were talking down to a small child rather than another educated adult.

The last points I'll (re)make are:

a) You're missing the point of my post -- My point wasn't from where the money comes, but rather the huge difference in scale that we're talking about. (If two million a year on a forward looking mass transit system, that is still gaining its legs, is a "money pit," then what is 1.8 billion a year on roads?)

b) You still didn't point out my "massive gap" in logic and I still don't see it.

c) Regardless of where the funding comes from, (these trains run off of diesel which in turn has a gas tax factored into its price), a healthy mass transit system is a keystone of a vibrant, navigable, and progressive metropolitan area. The systems cut down on traffic, pollution, foreign oil consumption, and to a lesser degree sprawl.

We as a country hemorrhage hundreds of billions of dollars to foreign countries every year in the form of a trade imbalance. This is largely due to our importation of massive amounts of oil. This needs to be changed for many reasons: economic, national security, environmental, and otherwise. This isn't a problem that we can drill our way out of, and convincing ourselves that it is will only prolong the problem. Even if all our land was available for drilling, it would take many years for those projects to come online and we still wouldn't be able to produce the amount of oil we use. The remaining oil sources in this country are in very deep and/or remote areas, are of lower quality, and will be quite expensive to extract.

Mass transit systems are one important piece of the puzzle for reducing our dependence on foreign oil, therefore I'm a fervent supporter of smartly expanding our current systems as well as establishing new ones. I've yet to hear an argument against mass transit systems that isn't cherry picked beyond belief, nonsensical and generally incoherent. You can cherry pick about where the funding comes from, but I still say the overarching idea isn't a waste of money -- or "boondoggle." It's a smart step and based on a firm foundation of facts and reality.

My response:

A) I consider a system that transports less than 1k people a day and needs 1.7 million extra for a year to operate a failure. Mind you I am ignoring the enormous (40+ million) in startup costs we paid just a couple years ago.

B) The gap in logic has been pointed out, it is the entire argument for rail. The users of roads are paying a far larger share for roads than users of rail are for rail. In fact, in TN drivers get screwed since we are a 'donor' state and pay more in gas taxes than we receive back from the federal government. What I also find humorous is that some are proposing to tax gasoline even more and use that money to help pay for mass transit projects like this one.

C) I am quite sure these trains are not paying tax on their diesel, as they are a quasi government program. I could be wrong but from everything I have read on the Tn state tax site I am not. Also, a healthy mass transit program makes a city vibrant and progressive? Come on, that is not an argument for something that costs millions. I believe that jobs and people with disposable income make a city vibrant, not a bus or train. Also, wouldn't a progressive want an energy efficient solution, especially in today's age? Pretty sure that with the low ridership that the Music City Star has it is far from energy efficient per passenger mile.

I would fully support a mass transit system paid for by its customers. Hell, I'd support one even if its customers were only able to pay for 80% of its costs. But in Nashville that's not the case right now, especially with this specific rail line.

PS: I completely support energy independence. There are plenty of American companies making a pretty penny off alternative energy and it is great. However we must face this realization: we are a liquid fuel economy. It takes a significant amount of time to transition from that. Electric or hybrid cars are simply not effective right now. They are improving and will be efficient enough in 5-10 years and at that point the transition from oil will happen more rapidly. However, we still need to drill in the currently restricted places in America. I have yet to hear an argument against drilling that doesn't rely on emotion. Places like Alaska will not make us completely independent from foreign oil, but it will help. Not drilling is just dumb. Another thing that's dumb is placing restrictions on imports of alternative fuels to the benefit of American farmers. But that doesn't stop our fearless leaders in Congress from restricting Brazilian sugar cane.

Sorry if you guys feel like I am talking to you like children.

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Well, we'll have to agree to disagree. I see it as a smart program that will take some time to gain its legs. It certainly isn't going to be a flying success right out of the starting gates, but, as I see it, it should grow into a successful system if it's allowed to expand and add lines that are more appropriate to the population distribution of Middle Tennessee. (The current line was chosen to jump start the system, because it had the lowest start-up costs). I don't see the sense in allowing it to die in its infant stages, largely due to high insurance costs -- certainly not after investing the kind of money that has been invested. I say this because I think it's a smart investment that will soon bare fruits which justify its costs.

I was curious and broke down the costs of the system. It costs roughly two million a year to run. It runs 5 days a week and there are 52 weeks a year. This means it runs 260 days a year. It's recently reached the level of about 1,000 daily trips by riders and continues to grow. There are 6 trips made Mon.-Thurs. and 7 on Friday, meaning an average of 6.2 trips daily. Keeping all this in mind, I estimate that:

a) The daily cost to run the system is $ 7,692.31

b) The cost per train trip is $ 1,240.70

c) The daily cost per rider is $7.69 (The cost of a ticket is roughly $3.00 - $5.00, depending on where you board the train, if you preorder the tickets, and if you use a monthly pass. Children under 4 ride for free)

d) Estimating average ticket price at $4.00 would mean that current riders directly pay 52% of the operating costs. $5.00 per ticket would mean 65%.

e) If ridership rose to 1,500 daily trips by riders who pay an average ticket price of $4.00 the percentage directly covered by the riders jumps to 78%.

f) In order for the riders to cover all the daily costs by only paying $4.00 a ticket, you would need 1,923 trips by riders per day or 961 two way riders per day.

I don't think it's a stretch to say that within a few years the system will grow enough to cover most of its operating costs. I think it's a bit unrealistic to expect it to do so right out of the gate. You may make the argument that they should simply charge $ 7.50 per a ticket and all would be well. Perhaps this is true, but one has to keep in mind that there is only so much people will be willing to pay and $15.00 a day might be over that threshold. I think $4-$5 a trip is a good price, although I'm no expert. Raising the ridership levels, not the price of a ticket, would be a better route and the trend is going in the right direction.

Again, this system is very new and will take time to get its legs. I think it's not too farfetched to say that it will gain its legs in the next few years, especially if new lines are added to the larger population centers in Middle Tennessee.

I'll concede that you have to have a certain ridership density for trains to be more fuel efficient, but that density is surprisingly low. I don't have enough facts about the Music City Star to figure out if it has reached that density or not, so I can't argue that point with you. I can say with certainty that, pound for pound, rail transportation is much more fuel efficient than automobile transportation. There's a reason that rail is used to transport a high percentage of the long haul freight in this country, which is then offloaded onto trucks that make the short hauls to distribute the goods locally. That's not to say that other forms of freight transportation aren't in heavy use, especially when lower bulks are being dealt with.

Generally speaking, rail transit systems reduce traffic, traffic fatalities, pollution, foreign oil consumption, and the cost of travel. For these reasons, I say it's a progressive form of transportation.

The reason Amtrak is such a failure is because its long hauls can't compete with the speed of airline or automobile transportation. In Europe and Japan this isn't the case because they've developed high speed railway systems and they have more extensive networks, which translates into more direct routes. For these reasons their systems are more successful.

Oy, and I said I wouldn't get into one of these arguments...

Edited by GaTechGuy
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You do realize how wrong the majority of this post is right?

Let me dissect and prove wrong another one of your posts Monsoon, then you can leave the thread and never give a rebuttal because you are embarrassed like last time. ....

I have no idea what you are talking about but you didn't address one item that I posted and instead went off on another insulting tangent that has nothing to do with this topic.

You contend that the highway system and the oil used make it possible are completely self funded and operated by the free market. That is 100% wrong. If you truly believe that then you suffering from what you accuse the rest of us of. I just gave you examples where this isn't the case, and the federal highway trust fund does not come even close to funding all of the highway building that takes place in the USA. You shrugged this off by attacking my credibility, yet provided nothing but your opinion. The road system and the oil that makes it possible are not operated by the "free market"

Likewise, successful mass transit requires similar investment and support from the government to make it possible. The free market used to run the train system in this country and it collapsed to the point the government had to nationalize it to keep it operating.

Given that you make your point by lacing your posts with immature insults (do you know the real meaning of the word "dumb") we can also assume that it is you who have no idea what you are talking about because someone who is sitting on firm ground does not need to do this.

....

Sorry if you guys feel like I am talking to you like children.

But it is you who is acting like one. The is the nature of the types of arguments against mass transit that we see over and over. Instead of addressing the issue about equivalence between government involvement between roads and trains, we get petty insults such as this.
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"B) The gap in logic has been pointed out, it is the entire argument for rail. The users of roads are paying a far larger share for roads than users of rail are for rail. In fact, in TN drivers get screwed since we are a 'donor' state and pay more in gas taxes than we receive back from the federal government. What I also find humorous is that some are proposing to tax gasoline even more and use that money to help pay for mass transit projects like this one. "

Good points. Add to these that the user of roads pays just about 100% of the cost of the carriage, fuel, maintenance and insurance; only a small portion of the total cost of getting from A to B in a car is the cost of road construction and maintenance. To compare, it would be as if the public rail ticket cost included the actual cost per rider of the equipment, fuel and employees, but enjoyed only a small government subsidy that covered a portion of the cost of the rails.

I've always wondered why public transportation can't charge what it actually costs to run, though I think I've come around finally to an answer. Everyone needs food, too, but the economically disadvantaged individual receives the subsidy, not the grocery item. It wouldn't be be fair for a middle-class person pay 50 cents for a $1.50 box of cereal, and let the government pitch in a buck subsidy, just because 50 cents is all the poor or a student could afford to pay.

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^OK I will cite an example. It's been pointed out that roads make more sense than trains because the government pays less money to build a road. (we will forget the oil subsidy that I mentioned above) This example will show otherwise.

  • Last November Charlotte opened a LRT line. The line cost $450M to build and was paid for as follows. Feds - 48%, NCDOT - 25%, local transit tax mentioned above 28%. The line took 2.5 years to build.
  • This past month the city transit agency reported a June daily ridership 16,479. The projection for the first year was supposed to be 9,100. They are close to double that amount.
  • Ridership has increased each month the line has been open and shows no sign of leveling out.
  • The line currently can handle between 35,000 - 40,000 day and has exceeded this at times for special events. It carried over 100,000 passengers the first weekend it was open though to be fair that was a special fare free open house/celebration.

So how is this relevant? This line parallels very congested I-77 roughly from the city limits to downtown. This highway is one of the most congested in NC and much of the day its slows to a standstill. The state has estimated that it will take somewhere between $3B - $4B to widen this road by one additional lane in each direction and by the time it is finished will also be overwhelmed without options. In addition because of the cost the state says it can't attempt this project for a least another 15 years.

So the only reasonable alternative they had was to build the relatively in-expensive train line which is already removing a significant amount of traffic from I-77. In fact it is so successful they find themselves in the position of having to expand the park and ride lots on the outer portions of the line to handle more customers. These are not economically disadvantaged people. These are office workers, businessmen, commuters all looking to get out of the congestion and to save some gas and parking money by not having to drive to downtown Charlotte.

The results speak for themselves. The people in the city are wanting more lines built given this success. They don't want more roads that become more congested. I won't even get into the issues of what cars are doing to the air which nobody seems to take that cost into account either, but it is there none the less.

One final note on this example. Last year, the anti-Transit people used a quirk in the NC Law to place an initiative on the Nov ballot to repeal the Transit tax. The repeal lost by 70% to 30% the people voting overwhelmingly to keep the transit tax. Given that we are a democracy in this country, I don't know how anyone could argue against it. (since that vote, gasoline has more than doubled in cost)

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Green Ribbon Environmental Survey, conducted by Metro.. one of the survey options is "Increased availability of mass transportation"

http://www.nashville.gov/mayor/green_ribbon/

(btw, you only need to fill out zip code & email address for personal info)

The Mayor's Green Ribbon Committee on Environmental Sustainability was created to assure that Nashville continues to be a livable city with clean air, clean water, open spaces, transportation infrastructure and an energy use profile necessary to provide a prosperous community for current and future generations.
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I talked with Mayor Dean about Mass Transit today, and he believes the time is right for it. He also thinks that we're going to have to have some form of dedicated revenue stream approved by a referendum, and while his personal favorite is BRT, he's open to more Commuter Rail, Streetcars, etc. He and I talked for about 20 minutes about it if you have any more questions on what he thinks.

PS. He's 100% committed to the MCS, and refuses to let it be killed or lapse in funding b/c he feels that it'll jepordize future Federal funding for Mass Transit.

Edited by franktown
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Unless there is a change in the rules it's practically impossible to get any federal funding for transit these days without a significant amount of local funding (doesn't matter if it comes from local or state sources). Any project above $50M that asks for full federal funding will most likely be turned down that does not have this.

The FTA also doesn't like to fund street cars so that really leaves 3 options for a city like Nashville. Light Rail, BRT and commuter rail. A system can have components from all three. I am not a fan of BRT because it has not demonstrated in this country that it is an equivalent option to LRT, but it is brought up alot simply because of the investment in highway infrastructure.

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