RTA buses get funding increase from local governments
LA VERGNE – The city’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen Tuesday joined other local governments and Middle Tennessee State University to increase funding for Regional Transportation Authority bus service by allocating $5,484 for the city’s share.
Local governments and MTSU provided more than $54,000 in additional funding for bus service in their budgets for the new fiscal year. The allocations totaled $253,020, a 27.7 percent increase from the previous fiscal year.
“The mass transit is so important in Rutherford County with traffic congestion on (Interstate) 24 and (U.S. Highway) 41,” La Vergne Mayor Dennis Waldron said after the meeting. “We have (three RTA) routes running through La Vergne that are bound to help the traffic congestion.”
Waldron joined Aldermen Calvin Jones and Tom Broeker in voting to increase the RTA funding for the Relax & Ride bus service in an amended budget to a new total of $30,000 for a city serving a U.S. Census 2013 estimate of 34,077 residents.
All present board members except Alderwoman Melisa Brown supported the proposal in a 3-1 vote. Alderwoman Sherry Green was absent.
“The city has limited funding, and we have already budgeted the RTA budget for the year,” Brown said after the meeting.
Waldron also noted that he had met with other mayors serving in Rutherford County to discuss providing more support for RTA buses in this new fiscal year that started July 1.
The Rutherford County Commission, for example, approved an allocation of $49,220 for the RTA buses in the new budget, an increase from the $37,179 spent the previous fiscal year that ended June 30. The commission serves a county with a U.S. Census 2014 estimated population of 288,906.
The Smyrna Town Council, which serves a U.S. Census 2013 estimated population of 43,060, increased its RTA bus funding commitment from $24,516 to $27,000 this year, said Ed Oliphant, the chief financial officer with Nashville Metro Transportation Authority, which oversees the RTA regional buses.
The Murfreesboro City Council, which represents a 2013 U.S. Census estimate of 117,044 residents as the county seat, increased its RTA funding from $88,300 to $121,800 this year. The Murfreesboro government has access to federal funding to support the public transportation service, Oliphant added.
Middle Tennessee State University also increased its support from $23,697 to $25,000 to help students from Nashville reach the Murfreesboro campus, Oliphant said.
“The ultimate goal is to get some sort of dedicated funding,” said Oliphant, noting that Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has been asking mayors in Middle Tennessee to support the commitment for regional bus service to keep up with growth.
Those riding on the buses help relieve rush-hour congestion on I-24, Oliphant said.
“It’s an absolute nightmare,” Oliphant said.
In the first nine months of the previous fiscal year that started July 1, 2014, RTA provided 39,301 rides for Route 84X Murfreesboro Express, 31,792 rides for Route 86X Smyrna/La Vergne Express and 44,657 rides for Route 96X Murfreesboro Express.
“If you annualized those nine-month numbers, you should be looking at approximately 150,000 rides that RTA is providing on an annual basis between Nashville and Rutherford County,” Oliphant said.
RTA was able to expand bus service for its Southeast Corridor that includes Rutherford County thanks to winning a federal Congestion, Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement three-year grant at $720,000 per year. RTA hopes to win another grant in addition to getting increased funding commitments from local governments, Oliphant said.
He and La Vergne Mayor Waldron also noted that passengers are also paying 5 percent more to ride the buses, which also serves employers, such as the state, to help commuting workers reach Nashville.
“Everybody is adding a little bit more to keep this thing going,” Waldron said. “It’s a regional deal. It benefits anyone who wants to ride the bus from La Vergne to Nashville or even La Vergne to Murfreesboro.”
The mayor hopes that federal funding will come through next year.
“The goal is to keep it going until then,” Waldron said. “Right now, we have to keep it afloat. That’s one program that needs to grow, and Rutherford County is growing and traffic problems are growing.”
The following shows Regional Transportation Authority bus ride numbers for three routes in Rutherford County for nine months of the previous fiscal year that started July 1, 2014:
Route 84X Murfreesboro Express: 39,301
Route 86X Smyrna/La Vergne Express: 31,792
Route 96X Murfreesboro Local: 44,657