Bus survey: Transit options worse in low-income areas

Jan 30 2019
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Bus survey: Transit options worse in low-income areas

By: Amanda Haggard

A new report from WeGo bus riders in Nashville found that the neighborhoods where public transit was needed most fared worst in the city for transit service.

The 20-page report, called the Bus Route Report Card, was put together by Music City Riders United, a group of bus riders who want better transit options in Nashville. According to MCRU, more than 600 people who use WeGo or MTA on 36 different routes were surveyed for the report — all between May and October of this past year. MCRU took data for the 10 criteria they outlined and used route-specific data for routes where more than 50 passengers finished the survey.

“Many of the bus stops are in low income neighborhoods and are very dangerous to get to,” Kutonia Smith, an organizer with Music City Riders United, said at a press conference outlining the report in January. “They are in ditches or on the side of heavy-traffic roads with no sidewalks or crosswalks. It’s especially hard for people with disabilities to get to those bus stops.”

Smith outlined the disparities between bus stops in low-income areas versus more affluent neighborhoods.

“Bus stops in wealthy neighborhoods have benches, shelters, crosswalks, stop lights, bike lanes and more,” Smith said. “They often don’t have that in the low income neighborhoods. Many of the bus stops featured in our report were near where pedestrians were killed simply trying to cross the street. The top dangerous streets are controlled by [the Tennessee Department of Transportation] and Nashville Public Works.”

None of the bus routes in the city were given an A rating in the survey. Ratings were worst for Antioch Express Route 38X and Golden Valley Route 41 — both routes service neighborhoods with high poverty rates and where people of color live. MCRU cites data saying that these areas have anywhere from 14-38 percent poverty rates and are made of up anywhere from 47-79 percent people of color.

The highest ratings went to West End/Bellevue Route 5 and West End/White Bridge Route 3 where there’s just an eight percent poverty rate and neighborhoods are 80-89 percent white.

Riders identified the following issues with bus routes, according to the survey:

  • Infrequent or no bus service on weekends.
  • Hours of operation are too short. Buses do not run early enough in the morning or late enough at night.
  • Insufficient benches and shelters along routes.
  • Lack of crosswalks at or near bus stops.

“The state of public transit in Nashville is not acceptable in the form that it currently exists,” Sam Schaefer of MCRU said at the event releasing the data. “It’s not equitably serving our riders, and it’s not serving any of them well enough. These are not abstract problems with faceless people; these are real things that can be solved by taking action.”

MCRU made several recommendations for improving transit in Nashville such as dedicated funding to expand of bus service to 24 hours per day, an increase in bus frequency on weekends and expanded service hours and frequency in growing working-class neighborhoods outside the urban core. They’ve asked that Metro Council increased transit funding to Public Works in the next fiscal budget cycle, “with funds specifically earmarked for building protected crosswalks at every bus stop, prioritizing the most dangerous stops in working-class and people of color neighborhoods.” 


Photo by Alvine

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