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AcklenLove

The Solution for Nashville's Transit Issues

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Nashville's Metropolitan Transit Authority 2009-2010 Budget states that the MTA Component Unit Fund will have an allocation of $45 million. Music City Star is requiring emergency funding each year of over a million dollars to keep it running, and it currently only serves one spoke of the Greater Nashville Wheel.

An impartial observer would have trouble quipping a legitimate optimistic assessment of our transit situation. I say we can go forward, and turn urban transit into a net revenue generator, by going backward.

It's as simple as deregulating transit. Sell the buses, leave the bus stops, and allow anyone to open up their cars to passengers.

I can think of two basic ways to handle it. Either the city completely washes its hands of the transit situation, or it skims a small amount of revenue off of each official transaction to apply towards maintaining the roads, maybe subsidizing rail, or other things entirely.

The former is basically what's happened in Detroit. I recently came back from there and I was taken by how public bulletin boards have advertisements for transportation. I tried it myself--to get from downtown to Plymouth--and I was very pleased. I talked to the driver and he told me he's been doing it for years. He has never had nor heard of any problems stemming from this underground and completely unregulated transit strategy. He first got into it because he was bored with retirement, but he said that he makes a very comfortable wage from it and he said a lot of people could make a good living on it--definitely more than a taxi driver would make.

If the city wanted to tax the services, then they could make would-be drivers pay a small fee in order to put a box in their car. The box would keep track of rides and take the haggle factor out of the equation. A passenger would swipe their card at pick up, then again at drop-off, and that could take care of the payment issue. The city would tax some of that recorded revenue. I personally find this to be cumbersome and unnecessary, but it's more politically favorable. The city government could easily pitch the idea to the market and someone would come up with a solution that allows security, tax revenue generation, and efficiency, all at a price much, much cheaper than running buses all day.

What do you guys think? In discussions with my friends, the biggest arguments I hear are safety and discrimination. I think both arguments are easily shot down with a little evidence and situational consideration. As far as safety goes, if there aren't any problems in "underground" Detroit, I think we'd be pretty safe here. As far as discrimination, it would not be in a driver's favor to discriminate against potential passengers on the basis of appearance. If they did so it would cost them, and someone without the pre-existing prejudices would get the fare instead.

Keep in mind that this was the system we had in most US cities before it was regulated out of existence. Also keep in mind that anyone who has more than one seat in their car can make some extra money pretty much any time they want. Are you driving home from the Titans game? Pick up a passenger or two and drop them off on the way. Commuting? Advertise your open seats and contribute the earnings towards your gas bill.

This system allows economic freedom for anyone capable of driving, cuts down on the number of cars on the road, and gets rid of slow, inefficient, and costly buses that a minority of the population makes use of. My opinion is that Nashville doesn't need more buses or bus routes, it just needs more freedom.

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Hmmm...I don't know what to think of that...though my gut feeling is "fear." I can't imagine just piling into someone's car, as a woman, and trusting them. I know I do that when I take a taxi, but there's something about that cab being regulated and part of a company that makes it "ok."

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Hmmm...I don't know what to think of that...though my gut feeling is "fear." I can't imagine just piling into someone's car, as a woman, and trusting them. I know I do that when I take a taxi, but there's something about that cab being regulated and part of a company that makes it "ok."

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one word: insurance. this would be the killer.

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What you are describing is know as a "gypsy cab". They are not that uncommon, even NYC has them(but they have to purchase a medallion there). Essentially, you hail the cab(on the street or on the phone) and the fee is negotiated before the passenger gets in. It's a good service when demand is there. It's good for drivers who don't want to be a part of a large company. It's also good for passengers who want to negotiate, and typically want a slightly more comfortable car.

I would never go so far as to call it a "solution to mass-transit". It's still a single/low passenger vehicle. It spends most of the time empty. Even with 50% of the population using such a system, there would still be thousands of cars everywhere, and roads to maintain. So if you take TN for example, more people using Gypsy cabs=less $ from gas tax revenue=deteriorating roads. The point of MASS transit is to get a large number of people to board and exit at the same place. Hence, downtowns and walkable communities.

Detroit does have an extensive rail system which is publicly funded. It serves the purpose as stated above. Gypsy cabs can just supplement the stops that are off the beaten path. They cannot replace rails or the interstate highway.

Also, FYI, many people (myself included) don't like Gypsy cabs. I like to know exactly what it will cost me from point A to B and that it would be illegal for the driver to change that rate.

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What you are describing is know as a "gypsy cab". They are not that uncommon, even NYC has them(but they have to purchase a medallion there). Essentially, you hail the cab(on the street or on the phone) and the fee is negotiated before the passenger gets in. It's a good service when demand is there. It's good for drivers who don't want to be a part of a large company. It's also good for passengers who want to negotiate, and typically want a slightly more comfortable car.

I would never go so far as to call it a "solution to mass-transit". It's still a single/low passenger vehicle. It spends most of the time empty. Even with 50% of the population using such a system, there would still be thousands of cars everywhere, and roads to maintain. So if you take TN for example, more people using Gypsy cabs=less $ from gas tax revenue=deteriorating roads. The point of MASS transit is to get a large number of people to board and exit at the same place. Hence, downtowns and walkable communities.

Detroit does have an extensive rail system which is publicly funded. It serves the purpose as stated above. Gypsy cabs can just supplement the stops that are off the beaten path. They cannot replace rails or the interstate highway.

Also, FYI, many people (myself included) don't like Gypsy cabs. I like to know exactly what it will cost me from point A to B and that it would be illegal for the driver to change that rate.

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Maybe you guys are talking about a different Detroit than the one I know, but that city does not have an effective rail system. It has a people mover that doesn't really go anywhere which was constructed as an experiment by the federal government years ago which was deemed a failure. There is a similar, albeit smaller, people mover in Jacksonville which also is a complete failure in terms of being useful for transit. The Feds gave up on this idea for transit.

Detroit has gypsy cabs (and I thought of the same word when I read this) because it is a city in dire straits that can't even manage to run a decent bus system. It should be used as an example of what not to do, because everything that has gone wrong in American cities has been done on a grand scale there. Gypsy cabs have been banned in most places because where they are prevalent, they were often avenues of crime and ways to take advantage of those least able to take care of themselves.

On the argument of "transit deregulation", the term makes no sense because deregulation means to take restrictions off business. Yet this argument is about getting rid of municipal systems where the term regulation makes no sense. What you are talking about is "transit privatization". I don't see how it could possibly work except maybe in places that are already dysfunctional such as detroit. Here in Charlotte, there are 26 million people/year using the city buses and another 16,000/day using the light rail. I don't possibly see how this load of people could be moved by private cabs, gypsy or otherwise. The highways would come to a standstill and the additional air pollution would be staggering in a city that already has issues with bad air.

I realize this is about Nashville, but the point that any justification on what to do about transit should not be looking at Detroit as an example of what to do.

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Nothing stops us from picking up our neighbors and having them chip in for gas. Personally, I don't want to climb in the car with a stranger that is unregulated in same way. I am very conservative and against more government regulation, but a transport system will have to have some regulation as evidenced by some of the comments above mine.

Until we have a full system of light rail, a better bus system, better cab service and trains running from not just Lebanon, we'll continue to be subpar. As monsoon said, the gypsy cab system would be a drop in the bucket compared to what a city our size would need.

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Maybe you guys are talking about a different Detroit than the one I know, but that city does not have an effective rail system. It has a people mover that doesn't really go anywhere which was constructed as an experiment by the federal government years ago which was deemed a failure. There is a similar, albeit smaller, people mover in Jacksonville which also is a complete failure in terms of being useful for transit. The Feds gave up on this idea for transit.

Detroit has gypsy cabs (and I thought of the same word when I read this) because it is a city in dire straits that can't even manage to run a decent bus system. It should be used as an example of what not to do, because everything that has gone wrong in American cities has been done on a grand scale there. Gypsy cabs have been banned in most places because where they are prevalent, they were often avenues of crime and ways to take advantage of those least able to take care of themselves.

On the argument of "transit deregulation", the term makes no sense because deregulation means to take restrictions off business. Yet this argument is about getting rid of municipal systems where the term regulation makes no sense. What you are talking about is "transit privatization". I don't see how it could possibly work except maybe in places that are already dysfunctional such as detroit. Here in Charlotte, there are 26 million people/year using the city buses and another 16,000/day using the light rail. I don't possibly see how this load of people could be moved by private cabs, gypsy or otherwise. The highways would come to a standstill and the additional air pollution would be staggering in a city that already has issues with bad air.

I realize this is about Nashville, but the point that any justification on what to do about transit should not be looking at Detroit as an example of what to do.

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Geez Acklen, feelings hurt? When I said we'll continue being "subpar", I'm obviously talking about being subpar AS FAR AS TRANSPORTATION is concerned! If you'll go back and read my comments on the desirable places to live thread, in which you have also posted, you'll see that I LOVE Nashville and see it as a wonderful city.

If you can't take the fact that some of us don't like your idea of unregulated "car owners with empty seats renting them out to strangers", then maybe you shouldn't "put it out there." Until you give us a reason why this is good that we agree with, don't get so offended.

I do appreciate that you would like to see our transportation woes become improved...but I still don't see eye to eye with you on this one. That doesn't mean I don't like you! :-)

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Most recent numbers are 14,000 a year. The trains are still shiny, I guess. Too bad they still have to raise sales tax another half percent. ....

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I see what you're trying to say Acklen and it"s a good thought but I can see two things going wrong with this:

1) Scheduling. During the rush hour commute, the majority are just trying to get to work by a certain time and there is no guarantee that anyone would be willing to take extra time and sell a seat in their car, especially if they're in a hurry as most are during rush hour. This is a bad problem for both parties because the person waiting by the stop might have to be somewhere too. Taxi's you can call with a guarantee that you will be picked up. Busses run on schedules that you can plan around beforehand.

2) Taxes. This would be considered taxable income and thus the selling party would have to keep some sort of official financial record of all of this.

What I would like to see happen with Nashville is something original and unique to the city's needs. San Francisco became renouned for it's trolly system and now it's become a sort of icon to the city (along with Golden Gate). We COULD copy other cities' transit systems and not gain much of any recognition or we could do something new that makes other cities go "hmmm...".

Yes people it's foolish to think that a good transit system will solve our traffic problems. NYC: by far the biggest transit system in the country -still clogged highways. Chicago too... and Boston, and San Francisco... Hell even friggin Tokyo has bad traffic and the vast majority of the population there USES the transit system. The reality of the matter is that -until a teleportation system is invented- with a metro's growth comes traffic and we just have to live with it. It's just become a way of life here where I am (which our transit system is a joke too).

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Oh man, now I have to get pragmatic. And I hate getting pragmatic:

I am not sure where you get figures from but what you seem to be doing is cherry picking results to make the case for privatizing transit services. It's a common story especially given that you seem to have absolutely no problem with government continuing to finance and construct the highway system that would makes car based transit possible.

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exhibit a

I'm not saying we should have gypsy cabs.

That was not any part of my argument. Please don't attribute that term to what I'm advocating.

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^The figures that I gave you were from not from 2007. The light rail trains didn't even start running until Dec 2007 and there was no reporting until 1Q08. Please get your facts straight. I posted the most recent transit figures above. They show train ridership at 15,000+ as I said and the bus system carrying 17M for the first 4-5 months of the year. At those rates it ridership will far exceed what I posted above.

You said this isn't about roads because roads are funded by gas and other taxes. And how do you think LRT and buses are funded? Taxes. People pay a fee each time they ride transit, and the people voted in taxes to pay for the system. You are trying to make the distinction that roads are not part of this discussion but I would completely disagree. Roads, trains, streetcars, trains, etc are all parts of the transit system of cities. It is a folly to believe that a major growing city can rely on just one mode of transit just as it is to say that it is OK for government to fund and build roads, but isn't ok for it to fund and operate trains and buses. It's a completely illogical argument.

You said that trains will never make money. When was this stated as a reason for building transit? When was the last time a road made money?

You said that you would have voted for for the 1/2 cent transit tax because the estimates were wrong. However in Charlotte, the people got to vote on it again in 2007 after the train was built and the costs known. This argument fails especially since I stated this above.

You said that Private Enterprise has it licked. I've got 3 words to answer that. The Airline Industry. This is an industry that was completely de-regulated by the same kinds of notions of getting rid of public funded transit, and they completely mismanaged it. They overbuilt, treated their employees badly, used the bankruptcy laws to dump obligations on the federal government, and they now give horrible service that most people truly dislike.

------------------------

I don't mind you making your arguments here about being against transit however this is a site devoted to such things.

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So titanhog, here's where I bring in your post. You imply that Nashville is subpar solely on the basis of its lackluster public mass transit. Well, you're a tough one to please. And that's a pretty strange measurement for a city's desirability. I guess all those write-ups about Nashville being one of the top cities to live in have their priorities all wrong, huh? But it's still a free country. Better move while you can! Wait, you don't have many choices, do you? Hope you like Chicago, NYC, or Boston. Or Charlotte! They'll need people to chip in for that $1+ billion dollars. Show me your wallet....that's a start...can you bring five friends? I'm sure they'll love our shiny new trains! Oooooo! Shiny! Can't promise a job, though. BoA and Wachovia Wells Fargo aren't exactly hiring right now. And watch out for the riders patting themselves in the back. They might scratch your face by accident.

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.....

BTW, this link points to a CATS system in Louisiana.. not Charlotte:

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You said that Private Enterprise has it licked. I've got 3 words to answer that. The Airline Industry. This is an industry that was completely de-regulated by the same kinds of notions of getting rid of public funded transit, and they completely mismanaged it. They overbuilt, treated their employees badly, used the bankruptcy laws to dump obligations on the federal government, and they now give horrible service that most people truly dislike.

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^But there isn't really competition in the US Airline industry. When they de-regulated, there was a mass consolidation of buy-ups and now we have an oligopoly of 5-6 companies providing almost all the service in this country along with some low fare companies that cherry pick profitable routes. Because of this is it a business that has no problems at all with irritating its customers to no end by doing such things as practically charging to use the bathroom in these extra fees. The price for flying can easily double what the ticket cost is now. It's a situation that couldn't exist if there were true competition.

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"It's a common story especially given that you seem to have absolutely no problem with government continuing to finance and construct the highway system that would makes car based transit possible. The problem with this approach, and it has been proved out many times is that you can't have a modern transit system that relys on cars and roads."

Getting back to Nashville, it is a city - region, really - where you pretty much have to have a car. That is the main obstacle to mass transit in this city. Once you are making payments and paying your insurance, the gas and maintenance is a comparatively small portion of operating expense. Simply by buying a used car instead of new, a person can save thousands of dollars the individual's cost of commuting without having to sacrifice any comfort or privacy.

To improve that, people have to live closer together and near work and amenities that are walking distance. Few places in Nashville today fit the bill. We need to build a city around mass transit to have successful mass transit. But even that is not enough. we need to cater to the needs and desires of potential ridership that enjoys other choices. The question must be asked,"Why would someone capable of driving him/herself to work just say, 'F it, I'm taking the bus?'"

I sypathize with Aclen's desire in getting the busses and their choking smoke off the roads for smaller vehicles. Very much so.

The reality is that we need several systems; one for inside I-440, many separate ones for the suburbs taylored to their decentralized nature, and one for commuting from outside counties. Where the government doesn't have a reasonably successful plan of action, I think it useful to let private companies compete for riders in order for the transit system to evolve. Busses in Nashville are a one-size-fits all solution that one would expect from government. They work for some people in some areas at some times, but they absolutely fail for other people in other areas most of the time (outside of rush hour).

If you want innovation, if you need innovation, it's got to go private. Conventional wisdom is that mass transit will ALWAYS fail to turn a profit, or break even for that matter, because the ridership cannot afford to pay full cost for the service, and thus must be subsidized. Ultimately, such wisdom builds is a system that caters to folks who can't afford to use the very bus they're riding on without subsidy. Anything more, and you price out your ridership or increase their subsidies. Any attempt at marketing mass transit to people who can afford to pay - that is, people who have choices - requires catering to their needs and tastes. However, class-based service levels is not the role of government.

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You said this isn't about roads because roads are funded by gas and other taxes. And how do you think LRT and buses are funded? Taxes. People pay a fee each time they ride transit, and the people voted in taxes to pay for the system. You are trying to make the distinction that roads are not part of this discussion but I would completely disagree. Roads, trains, streetcars, trains, etc are all parts of the transit system of cities. It is a folly to believe that a major growing city can rely on just one mode of transit just as it is to say that it is OK for government to fund and build roads, but isn't ok for it to fund and operate trains and buses. It's a completely illogical argument.

You said that trains will never make money. When was this stated as a reason for building transit? When was the last time a road made money?

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