Group Offers A "Plan B" For Nashville Transit

Posted at 5:48 PM, Mar 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-26 12:40:32-04

A political action committee called Nashville Plan "B" has brought attention to possible alternatives to the Let's Move Transit Plan.

"Don't let politicians convince you there are no alternatives," an animated video chimes.

The video has made the rounds on social media and advocating for a "Plan B" in the Nashville transit debate.

The group was formed by two millennials against the city's $5.4 billion transit plan. It was filed as a political action committee with Metro Nashville last week.

"We would lease a large fleet of passenger vans then use rideshare technology to create routes instantly based on demand," their promotional video states. 

Johann Porisch and John Maddox said they wanted to join the debate but noticed there was something missing from the major anti-transit plan platforms: an alternative.

"Instead of inflexible light rail which only runs on one corridor, the van picks people up in front of their homes," Porisch said.

It's a modern take on vanpooling, which has been in the Midstate since the 1990s.

NewsChannel 5 Traffic Anchor Rebecca Schleicher rode along with VanStar in August, after the program reached 900 riders across Middle Tennessee. It's run by a federally-funded group and many of its rider fees are covered by companies who want their employees to have a different option to get to work. 

CBS News recently reported on a small fleet of 10 vans that's seen some success in Arlington, Texas where transit options are almost non-existent.

But for some, it's a tough sell just three weeks before early voting begins on the citywide transit referendum.

"Any idea that someone can come up with a different idea on the back of a napkin is not really realistic," said Ethan Link, a volunteer and transit advocate for Transit for Nashville.

Link works with unions and is constantly in contact with folks in the construction and healthcare industries. He said the city's plan that would build five light rail lines and overhaul the bus system as well as build neighborhood transit centers, sidewalks, bike lanes and cross walks is the best option for Nashville's future. 

"What I do have confidence in is a well-engineered, well-planned program that the community has had input on, and that's what's on the ballot on May 1," he said.

So far, the largest rallying cry against the city's plan has been the price, which is $5.4 billion to put in place, but will eventually reach almost $9 billion over the next two decades when the day-to-day operations costs are also factored in.

To pay for the plan, the city proposed a series of tax increases. The one Nashville residents will feel the most is the sales tax increase from 9.25 percent to 10.25 percent over the next five years. That tax increase would sunset in 2068.

A study commissioned by the Nashville Chamber of Commerce said the sales tax impact on an individual in Nashville will be 34 cents a day, or $10 a month. The Chamber has come out in support of the city plan.

"We shouldn't have to pay much higher taxes for a transit solution here," Porisch said. 

He said his idea for a 416-van fleet would cost closer to $60 million to run on a daily basis.

Another complaint about the city's plan is that it only covers the Metro Nashville area.

"Our traffic problems come form Williamson, Rutherford, Sumner counties," Porisch pointed out.

Yet, the city plan leaves the option open for surrounding counties to connect by holding referendums of their own.

County mayors are closely watching what happens in Nashville, waiting to make the pitch that raising money to connect to light rail lines and bus routes will benefit their own citizens.

"These are the starts of a plan that expands to those other counties and its up to those counties to participate," Link said.

The guys with Nashville Plan "B" argue the city plan is too permanent in a changing world.

"Once those steel tracks go down they're never going away," Porisch said. 

He planned to put his proposal on the desks of every Metro Council member Tuesday night before the Council's regularly-scheduled meeting and also provide the plan to the MTA Board.

He said he didn't know if city officials would take it seriously, but he hoped they would be open to an alternative plan, because he likes the thought of a Plan B.