Economics Expert Asks, Is Metro's Transit Plan Forward Thinking?

Posted at 8:03 PM, Oct 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-31 21:11:53-04

In fifteen years, when Nashville's light rail project will theoretically be complete, will self driving cars be the future? It's a question asked by economics professor Dr. Malcolm Getz at Vanderbilt university.

Getz already says car service is the transportation future in America, but with rising technology, he believes $5.2 billion for light rail transportation in Nashville is not forward thinking enough.

"Ridership is down in about three quarters of the cities, transit ridership, bus and rail," said Getz. "The average decline for one year is 3.6 percent. But there are number of cities, closer to Nashville, similar to Nashville, are having higher declines than that."

It's an issue Getz has been following for many years. He even wrote a long opinion piece on other ideas Nashville could pursue to reduce congestion, one of the transit plan's main goals.

But one of Getz's more futuristic ideas is the notion that self-driving cars could be prolific in the future, even as soon as the next decade.

"It will happen in phases. It's not going to go from the car you have today into the car which has no steering wheel and break pedals," said Getz. "A 90% reduction of crash rates would have a significant effect on the congestion on our roadways, because it would reduce the number of incidents of excessive, or extraordinary congestion associated with crashes."

State lawmakers have a number of bills in the works to allow self driving cars on Tennessee roadways. However, spokesman for Mayor Megan Barry, Sean Braisted, said the plan isn't going to be one way or the other. Both light rail and self driving vehicles will likely play a role in Nashville's tranist future.

"Cars driving around with nobody in it is not going to solve the problem of congestion," Braisted said. "It's having too many vehicles and too few people there. So, you can fit a lot more people in a light rail train than when you stretch that out on the street with cars."

According to Braisted, many arguments being used in Nashville that are opposed to light rail have been used in other cities. But when people get a taste of what light rail has to offer, they tend to want more of it.

"Public transportation is critical if you're going to be in a growing city and we expect about a million more people in the Nashville area by 2040 and we have to plan for that," he said.

The mayor would like to see the transit issue on the upcoming 2018 May ballot.