Walter Searcy of Transit For Nashville addresses the crowd of petitioners at the Nashville Farmers Market. Photo courtesy of Transit For Nashville

By Cillea Houghton

NASHVILLE, TN — Transit For Nashville, a 45-member coalition of community members advocating for Mayor Barry’s mass transit referendum, have officially launched their petition campaign.

Walter Searcy, spokesperson for Transit For Nashville, said that the main goal of the coalition is to get the community to vote “yes” on the referendum that will designate a portion of the state’s sales tax to fund mass transit system in the region that would provide light rail and an improved infrastructure and bus system.

He also said that affordable housing is a key factor in developing mass transit. “One critical piece in Nashville is we have to keep Nashville affordable – affordable housing is critical. You can’t have decent affordable housing without decent public transportation,” he said, noting that some of the city’s workers including teachers and police officers are forced to live as far as Lebanon and Bowling Green, Ky. to avoid expensive housing costs. “We want people working in these capacities who live with us and are among us. That’s a critical piece and mass transit goes along with that.”

Clifton Harris, president and CEO of Urban League of Middle Tennessee, said that improving sidewalks and having a quality infrastructure system is crucial in enabling people to get from their homes to the transportation system. “Transit gives access to workforce opportunities and we have too many people who don’t have access to jobs because of lack of transportation,” Harris said.

He also noted its impact on youth, based on a speech from a high school student and Oasis Center member whosaid improved transportation positively impacts young people.  “It gives them another level of independence and another level of maturity,” Harris said, adding it cuts down on families’ budgets.

A sector of the population that will be directly impacted are labor workers, with Ethan Link, program director for the Southeast Laborers’ District Council and co-chair of Transit For Nashville, saying that a lot of their members work at Vanderbilt University in dining, custodial and environmental services and use the bus to get to work.

“We’re really invested in it for their benefit because we need them to have more options of how to get to work,” Link said. An increased bus service would be a “huge help” to the Laborers’ members who work at Vanderbilt and building light rail would be a “big benefit” for their construction workers as it’s the kind of work you can “train into.” “It’s an all of the above solution is what we need,” he said. “It’s a big part of continuing our growth in a responsible way.”

Shelly Courington of AARP Tennessee said updated transportation allows residents 50 and older to be “full members of the community.” “If they’re able to do that and have access, then they can stay in their homes as long they want to, and so we can reduce future institutions that we’re looking at because people are active and engaged,” she said.

The referendum goes before a vote in May.

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