Nashville Transit Proposal Vis-A-Vis The Paradigm Shift

1_TFN_MapSince my target audience is national rather than state or local, I tend to avoid writing in this Blog about topics that are clearly of interest mainly to people in the state and city where I live. However, one highly visible and controversial Nashville-specific topic right now presents to me an opportunity to “kill two birds with one stone.”  For the benefit of people in the Nashville metro area, I will indicate my rationale for clearly identifying with one side of the current controversy. For the benefit of those people and everyone else in this country, I’ll describe the situation from the perspective of how the Current Paradigm, hanging on by it’s fingernails while the New Paradigm continues rushing in at a rapidly accelerating pace, is still not totally dead.

The Local Aspect [Prerequisite To The Paradigm Shift Perspective]

The topic, from a local perspective, is a May 1 referendum that will be a “Go / No-Go” decision on a proposed $8.95 billion [note the “b”] mass transit system anchored around a hub-and-spoke light rail network that includes a 1.8-mile underground tunnel through downtown to the hub, 26 miles of track to form the spokes, a rapid bus network on four other roads, improvements to the city’s current bus system, and 19 transit centers that would include park-and-ride and other transit options. Funding, in addition to revenue from fares when the system is fully operational [15 years from now], would be from increases for 50 years to four taxes: local sales tax [1% increase, raising the overall sales tax rate from 9.25% to 10.25%]; hotel/motel tax [0.625% increase], business and excise tax [20%]; and rental car tax [1.2% increase].

I can wrap up this Local Aspect section by quickly summarizing my Letter To The [Tennessean] Editor that was published in the 4/3/18 edition. …  This mass transit plan could easily have been pulled from dusty archives in Chicago or New York or Boston — where it may have been “innovative” in the first half of the last century. If it is approved, we are “betting the farm” on the philosophy that citizens will design their lives around a fixed transit infrastructure. There was absolutely no “Point A to Point B” thinking in the design. “Innovative” thinking in 2018 would start with observing traffic and commercial/residential development patterns to develop a matrix of specific points of origin [Point A] to specific destinations [Point B], then using sophisticated mathematical modeling to determine a route matrix, and finally factoring in options like bike-sharing, autonomous vehicles, ride-sharing services, etc. $8.95 billion over 15 years is $597 million per year. On that budget, I’d be willing to bet that a much better and more flexible and adaptable plan could have been devised that we could have begun actually using this year.

The Bigger Picture: Paradigm Shift Perspective

Elements of Current Paradigm thinking run throughout the two-year process of developing and gaining approval of this plan. As I mentioned in my letter referenced above [no Point A to Point B thinking], all the people involved did was gather statistics from other cities with rail-based hub-and-spoke systems [“ridership” as a percent of population; fares; operating costs; whether operating below, at or above cost; etc.], translate those statistics to Nashville’s demographics, get estimates of construction costs [little more than educated guesses at this point], develop a budget, and begin the marketing and sales effort. All of that is Current Paradigm thinking. Only the people who are the opponents of this plan are exhibiting New Paradigm thinking by at least mentioning alternative conceptual approaches seriously.  Proponents only mention them in rebuttal mode: “That won’t work because …”, “That’s pie in the sky thinking; we need something more doable now” [apparently forgetting that “now” for their plan is 2034], etc.

Twenty Days From Now …

We’ll know the outcome in twenty days [May 1], probably shortly after or possibly several hours after the polls close. My guess is that the proponents will win if for no other reasons than 1) the fact that they have more money for media ads [and so far seem to be successfully creating an atmosphere of “the sky is falling”, “this is our chance”, “it’s now or never”, etc., to make voters feel like they will be dooming Nashville’s future if they vote “No”], 2) the entire description of this massive proposal on the ballot is only 244 words, and 3) a very small percentage of voters will have actually read even that short synopsis, and the vast majority will be swayed more by the media coverage than by the facts.  If they do, I can predict three things with almost certainty: 1) the project will not be finished on schedule in 2034; 2) the total costs to date in 2034 will be at least $13-15 billion [a 50% overrun], probably more; and 3) traffic in Nashville will be at least as bad as it is now, possibly worse.

If it passes, and if I’m still around in 15 years, somebody please remind me of how accurately I predicted this in 2018.

Thanks for reading this Charles M. Jones, and if you regularly follow my Blog, for that, too. Please consider sharing this or other posts with your friends, colleagues and associates.

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Charles M. Jones

Author: Charles M. Jones, PE, CPA

[retired — neither license active]

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