Until the late 1970s, Greyhound bus and other urban transit services provided connections to rural Tennessee that knitted communities together, spurred economic development and enhanced community life. As automobile ownership became economically feasible for more families, citizens bought cars and much of the transit network, along with the social connections it created, quickly disappeared.
The Amish community was one of the hardest hit by the discontinuation of bus service. Unable to drive cars, the Amish must find alternative means for traveling 80 miles or more to Nashville to access medical care, shopping, and other goods and services. Moreover, the lack of bus service diminished tourism revenue, stunting the growth of an important industry.
In response to growing public demand, the State of Tennessee implemented the Tennessee Intercity Bus Demonstration Program in 2008. Designed and managed at the state level, the program responds to local needs and provides residents and visitors the opportunity to choose public transportation to meet their mobility needs. Since the onset of the project, the State of Tennessee Division of Multimodal Transportation Resources has distributed $3.6 million in Intercity Bus funds to seven transportation providers. This year, newly available ARRA funds will allow for an additional investment of $3.2 million. Combined with Tennessee’s share, this reinvestment will allow the program to cover up to 98% of the State by the end of the program.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and TDOT provided funds to Anchor Trailways Tours for the purchase of four new buses which offer service seven days a week to Nashville MTA and RTA train stations, the Nashville Greyhound station, and the Amtrak passenger rail station. In addition to transporting Amish residents, the new buses and routes foster economic growth by expanding tourism and enabling visitors to “take a step back in time”.
The Tennessee effort exemplifies rural livability. Coordination had to be achieved between many stakeholders including the Nashville MPO and local city and county officials throughout fifteen counties. The end result provides the Amish community, and others, an affordable, efficient way to access urban areas and enjoy greater independence.