Monday, June 28, 2010

More TN commuters choose buses, trains to save money and go green

By Derek Moy • THE TENNESSEAN • June 28, 2010

After Tami Giles saved money by riding the Spring Hill Express bus service to work in Nashville, she wanted to recruit other passengers to keep the service going.

"I started the first day, and we had like five people,'' Giles said of the bus route that began in December. Giles, who works for the state Department of Tourist Development, asked for fliers to post on every floor of her building to spread the word about the new route.

"Now, it's like, 'Oh my gosh, now I don't have a seat,'' she joked. "No, it hasn't gotten that bad.''

But interest in regional public transit appears to be on the rise, according to the Regional Transportation Authority.

There are more riders using bus services to get to Nashville from Williamson and Rutherford counties, and the Music City Star, the commuter rail service connecting Lebanon and Nashville, also reports an increase in passengers.

The transit authority said more people are trying public transportation because of the environment, aggressive marketing of the bus routes and new businesses signing up for the EasyRide program, which allows employers to pay for their staffs to ride.

"Most of the people who are riding are people who work downtown, and before the (Spring Hill Express) was available, these customers were either driving their cars or carpooling with co-workers or neighbors, so this is a better deal,'' said Patricia Harris-Morehead, spokeswoman for the Regional Transit Authority. "They're saving money. They're helping the environment, and they're promoting public transit."

When the Spring Hill Express began, there were 386 passenger trips in December, but by April that number had risen to 938. On the Franklin/Brentwood route there were 1,026 commuters in December, compared with 1,657 in April.

'Positive, small step'
"It's a very positive, small step in developing public transportation for the region,'' said Paul Webb, a Brentwood city commissioner who serves as the city's representative on the regional transit authority.

A regional bus ride costs $3.50 per ride or $60 for a 20-ride pass.

Harris-Morehead thinks both new bus routes will continue to grow.

"You need to give new service at least a year to see if consumers are going to ride the service, and you need to market the service aggressively, and we've been doing that," she said. "It is growing very well, and it's growing at a rate that's similar to other regional routes that we put out there in the past."

On the Nashville/Murfreesboro Relax & Ride Express there were 6,700 passenger trips in April, compared with 5,950 during the same time last year.

For the Music City Star, 841 passenger trips were recorded in April, compared with 588 during the same time last year. The train is still in need of financial help, and the RTA board and finance committee are attempting to secure permanent funding for it, officials said.

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