May 1, 2024 - Politics

Bus ridership increases after pandemic declines

Data: WeGo; Chart: Axios Visuals

Annual bus ridership in Nashville was still below its pre-pandemic levels last year, but there are signs of growth.

Why it matters: Nashville Mayor Freddie O'Connell is pitching major improvements to the city's transportation system, with expanded bus service figuring prominently into his plan.

By the numbers: Overall bus ridership remains below 2014's 9.79 million rides, according to data from WeGo.

  • Following that high mark, WeGo bus ridership declined over the next five years but remained above 9 million annual rides. Then the pandemic hit, and use of the bus system plummeted.
  • The city has been playing catch-up since then. There were about 4.9 million rides in 2020 and 2021, but that number increased to 8.2 million in 2023.

Zoom in: Through a spokesperson, O'Connell singled out how the busiest routes — like 55 Murfreesboro Pike, 56 Gallatin Pike and 52 Nolensville Pike — are exceeding pre-pandemic levels. Other routes, like the 76 Madison connector, are seeing double-digit growth year over year, the mayor's office said.

What they're saying: "We bounced back after the pandemic faster than almost any other city," O'Connell said. "Data has shown us that when you make transit more accessible, ridership increases. Through direct access to transit centers and bus stop improvements, we're investing in communities where we know ridership still has potential to grow."

State of play: O'Connell is proposing several improvements to bus service and mass transit infrastructure under his Choose How You Move plan.

  • The plan calls for bus rapid transit on the busiest corridors, like Murfreesboro Pike, as well as 12 transit centers and 17 park-and-ride facilities.
  • Choose How You Move also would increase total bus service by 80% and expand service to the downtown entertainment district.

How it works: To pay for Choose How You Move, which will cost at least $3.1 billion according to an initial estimate from the administration, O'Connell is asking voters to approve a half-cent sales tax increase on the ballot this November.

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