By Commissioner GERALD NICELY
Public transportation in Tennessee is an important piece of our transportation network and plays a significant role in the state's economic health.
Surging gas prices, traffic gridlock, and environmental concerns are encouraging more and more people to look to transit as an affordable, reliable means of travel. Public Transit helps reduce roadway congestion allowing both commuters and freight to travel through our state more efficiently. What's more, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) estimates transit saves the nation almost 4 million gallons of gasoline a day. It also provides Tennesseans with transportation to jobs, schools, medical appointments and community activities and allows seniors and people with disabilities to remain independent.
In Tennessee, and across the nation, ridership on public transit is at its highest level since the late 1950s. More than 10 billion transit trips were taken in the U.S. last year, but for many Tennesseans who live in rural areas public transportation can be difficult to access. During the past several years, commercial bus service has been terminated in many of our rural counties leaving them without a fixed route bus system. To deal with this problem our Division of Multimodal Transportation Resources has identified gaps in bus service and developed a program to help fill this need. Earlier this month, TDOT made available $3.6 million in federal transit funds to existing qualified private or public agencies through a newly created Intercity Bus Demonstration Program.
The program utilizes federal funds which will supplement the services currently available. Nine regional carriers and rural transit systems have applied to participate in the program. The grant funds will be awarded later this month. Successful applicants will utilize the funds to connect 45 underserved counties to the closest city with intercity bus service. New feeder services to Nashville, Cookeville, Jackson and Memphis are scheduled to begin in 2009. Information on these routes can be obtained by contacting TDOT's Division of Multimodal Resources at (615) 741-2781.
The Department is also working to make rural transit more efficient. We are currently working with ten rural transportation agencies to implement intelligent transportation technology in buses. The technology will help agencies better coordinate trips and coverage. When fully implemented, it will enable transit providers to pull up online information that shows where all vans are located, where they're going and how many people are on board. As a result, the agencies will be able to serve more people and get riders to their destinations faster while also using fewer vehicles and traveling fewer miles. The goal is to have the technology in place in all ten transit agencies by August 2009.
There is little doubt that transit will continue to play a larger role in our transportation system. The programs described above illustrate progress toward meeting our goal of making transit services more efficient, reliable and available to all Tennesseans.
Editor’s Note: Gerald Nicely is the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Transportation.