Nashville’s on The Move

Regions on the move? You can count Nashville in! Nashville is renowned as a great place to live, work and play. Improving transportation links – with drastically improved transit connections – is part of the region’s strategy. To learn more, meet Ralph Schulz, President and CEO of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. 

CHR: Ralph, you’ve identified that one of the Chamber’s top priorities is supporting the implementation of a new transit plan that proactively meets the needs of the region. How did transit get to the top of the list as key focus area?

Ralph: The Middle Tennessee region continues to see dramatic growth with an average net in-migration of 70 people per day.

The Nashville Chamber’s 2017 Vital Signs report showed that our region needs to address the problems of congestion now, with 78% of the region’s population saying they experience more traffic now than one year ago. This was up sharply from 62% that were asked the same question the previous year. This isn’t just perception, it’s backed up by data.

One of our top priorities is supporting the design and implementation of a comprehensive transit plan that proactively meets the needs of our growing region.

CHR: Nashville has a ballot initiative coming up and, similarly, regions across the nation are engaging in their own efforts to fund and create better public transportation. What advice would you give when it comes to fostering collaboration among community stakeholders to get new things done? 

Ralph: The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce has helped advance transit in these key ways:

  1. Providing research and information to decisionmakers and the public
  2. Engaging and educating community leadership
  3. Providing a strong and independent voice in the discussion
  4. Lobbying expertise and resources at state and local level
  5. Providing resource to the campaign

These contributions are evident across these chamber initiatives:

For over twenty years, our chamber has organized an intercity visit for 100 plus community and business leaders to look at what other cities are doing well. For the past several years, our Leadership Study Mission trips have had strong transit components with visits to Salt Lake City (2015), Minneapolis (2016) and Denver (2017). Our trip to Portland (2014) included an extra day focused entirely on transit for interested participants.

In 2015, the Chamber established our “Moving Forward” initiative to ensure the creation of a regional transportation solution through a cohesive community effort. We are engaging business and community leaders in an annual, systematic review of the region’s progress toward implementing regional transportation. Moving Forward’s Coordinating Committee articulated 5 regional community-based transit goals, with a scorecard marking progress published every January:

  1. Adoption of regional transit plan by 2016
  2. State and federal enhancements for transit by 2017
  3. 30,000 public engagements by 2017
  4. Local, dedicated funding by 2018
  5. Break ground on first new transit project by 2020

Moving Forward’s Routes, Network & Modes Task Force provided input and recommendations during the development of the nMotion transit plan, the strategic plan for Nashville MTA/RTA.  We utilized Moving Forward’s Public Engagement Task Force to help ensure broad, diverse stakeholder input.  And Moving Forward’s Revenue & Finance Task Force commissioned two revenue studies:

  1. Victoria Transport Policy Institute looked at over 20 transit funding sources used across the country and evaluate them against 8 criteria
  2. University of TN Knoxville created 30-year revenue projections for four of those funding sources (sales, property, wheel, hotel/motel) for each of the 10 counties in our region

Advocacy by the Chamber and business leaders at the state level has been important in laying the groundwork for transit solutions.

In 2014, we successfully lobbied to amend an anti-BRT bill that would have restricted options available in our region. In 2016, P3 legislation and bus-on-shoulder bills passed. Participants on our Leadership Study Mission trip to Minneapolis experienced “bus on shoulder” first hand and were able to explain and better advocate for it. In 2017, the IMPROVE Act passed to raise the state’s gas tax. It included local enabling legislation. The revenue studies completed by Moving Forward helped us articulate that there was not a one-size fits all solution and that counties needed to have options that fit their circumstances. Without the passage of the IMPROVE Act, the proposed May 2018 Davidson County referendum for transit wouldn’t even be an option.

We along with others are working to resource the campaign for the May 1, 2018 election, through the Citizens for Greater Mobility PAC that was formed in August 2017.

CHR: Thanks, Ralph. We wish you great success!

Ralph Schulz
President and CEO, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce