Daily commuters who travel between Springfield and Nashville to work at Vanderbilt and Music City’s downtown area aboard two Gray Line motor coaches provided by the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) should have at least another year to enjoy the service.
The City of Springfield set aside the required funding for the service in its Fiscal Year 2016 budget, which passed unaimously on third and final reading Monday afternoon. But, city leaders said before their vote that something will have to be done to increase ridership, otherwise the service could be on the chopping block again next year due to rising costs.
During previous years, the City of Springfield and Robertson County each supported the service, paying about $30,000 apiece with federal grants to top off the funding. This year, the cost to the city and county is rising to more than $48,000, according to Springfield City Manager Paul Nutting.
Robertson County Mayor Howard Bradley said last week that the county would fund whatever the city agrees to fund. The county’s budget committee is entering its fifth week of discussions this week, but RTA has not yet been brought to the table.
“We will not be involved if Springfield is not,” Bradley said last week. “I would hate to lose the service. If we have to go to one morning bus and one evening bus, we could live with that. But I would hate to see any kind of curtailment of service.”
The RTA Board met Wednesday, June 17 and included the City of Springfield and Robertson County in its budget with the continued service still set at $30,613, according to Nutting.
The city manager said a significant change in service would be needed to bring expenditures into line.
“They really need $48,088 from each of us to keep service the way it is now,” Nutting said. “If they leave it at $30,613, they will have to cut services and change some things to save costs.”
During the Monday meeting, Alderman Bruce Head originally made a motion to include the current year’s cost, $30,613, in the 2016 budget, but it failed for lack of a second. Alderman James Hubbard made a motion to include $48,088 in the budget and it passed unanimously.
The city has a fund balance of $50,000 in the budget, which will be used to help fund the service, according to Nutting. He added that advertising will need to take place to inform more people about the available service.
“The decision to continue funding the bus service becomes much easier if we have at least 30 to 40 people riding each bus rather than the current average of 20,” Nutting said in a memo last week to board members.
During the Springfield Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s meeting on Tuesday, June 16, several daily riders of the RTA buses appealed to the board to continue funding the service.
Tony Cline said the service saves him money since his company subsidizes his ride by paying his bus ticket.
“It’s going to be about $3,500 to get back and forth to Nashville annually,” Cline said. “With 19 people (averaged) per bus, which means people will spend in gasoline about $115,000 annually in lieu of riding the bus.”
Chris Millar said not a lot of people know about the bus service and encouraged the board to take measures to advertise it more.
“At the two sites where the buses arrive, the signs are miniscule and in bad condition,” Millar said. “I saw one yesterday wrapped around a pole. I couldn’t even read it.”
Drew Sadler said he’s a recent first time homebuyer in Springfield and felt valued by the city for supplying the service.
“One of the reasons me and my fiancé decided on Springfield as our home was because of RTA,” Sadler said. “It is my hope we can continue offering this service.”
Sadler said the city needs to focus on long-term growth, not just short-term budget savings.