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Don't Miss the Bus: Tennesseans Organize for Better Public Transit

Groups like the Memphis Bus Riders Union want to make sure Tennessee policymakers prioritize funding and availability of public transit. (5demayo/morguefile)
Groups like the Memphis Bus Riders Union want to make sure Tennessee policymakers prioritize funding and availability of public transit. (5demayo/morguefile)
August 17, 2016

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The number of people taking public transit in Tennessee is on the rise, according to the Tennessee Public Transportation Association, and citizen groups are beginning to organize to make sure their city maintains and improves its local bus service. This week, the Memphis Bus Riders Union met with the area Amalgamated Transit Union Local 713 to discuss how cuts to bus service and route consolidation are affecting their communities.

Justin Davis, secretary for the Memphis Bus Riders Union said it's time for the entire region to recognize the importance of public transit.

"Transit is definitely a big issue in the South," he said. "The South spends the least on public transit out of any region in the country, so we've been in contact with some other riders' advocacy groups throughout the South."

Davis said Nashville bus riders are also looking to organize to advocate for better transit in that city. He said one concern is that cutting bus routes and services has a disproportionate impact on economically-depressed neighborhoods and minority residents.

But some cities are recognizing the benefits of public transit. Johnson City now has a real-time passenger information system that people can access on their mobile devices. Chattanooga, Clarksville, Cookeville and Murfreesboro all have recently expanded their services. Davis said public transit benefits more than just people without cars.

"Transit has so many potential benefits that a lot of policymakers don't really see, and I think that's just part of our job," he added. "Representing riders is getting that message out there, making sure that people understand just how important transit really is, especially when we have so many cars on the road."

In 2012, the most recent data available, 35 million trips were taken on public transportation in the Volunteer State, with riders traveling more than 51 million miles that year alone.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN