Driving is something Belmont student Kenya Stevens can live without.
“It’s an expense and an aggravation I don’t have to consider,” she said as she walked toward a bus stop on 21st Avenue.
Instead of dealing with the traffic the Hillsboro drivers that passed her by had to, she checked her smartphone to see when the closest bus will show up her stop.
A few minutes later, with a swipe of her student ID, she can step onto a bus and eventually make it to her job at University School of Nashville, class at Belmont or her home in East Nashville.
Stevens, who will finish her Bachelor’s degree in accounting in December, hasn’t owned a car in years and primarily uses public transportation to get around Nashville. And as long as she is a Belmont student, Stevens won’t have to pay one cent to do so. Belmont has partnered with the city since 2005 so students don’t have to pay to ride Metro Transit Authority buses.
Stevens decision to use forego cars wasn’t intentional at first. Her family’s car had broken down, and using the bus was the only option for Stevens and her family had to get around town.
She found the savings from not having to drive and fuel a car were huge and that the city’s buses ran sufficiently enough to allow her family to get around the city.
“It just became so constant that the three of us rode the bus everywhere,” she said. “Everywhere we wanted to go, we just mapped it out. It just worked.”
Since Stevens began predominately taking the bus, she said she has become part of a family of riders who all have stories of their own on the routes she takes.
“It actually was much better than I expected,” she said. “I’ve met some really interesting people and made some great friends.”
After she starting riding the bus system, Stevens started writing about the stories and experiences she and others had riding. Her “Carless in Nashville” blog has gotten major attention from Nashville mayor Karl Dean’s office and local public transit advocacy group Transit Now Nashville. Late last year, she was even featured in an advertising campaign by MTA.
While she and her blog has gotten great publicity from her ridership, Stevens admits she is one of only a few students who take the bus at Belmont. She said there’s a stigma to riding the bus in Nashville, one that she also had initially.
“People think people who ride the bus are down on their luck,” Stevens said. She said she quickly dismissed the idea once she started riding.
While Stevens uses the public transit system almost exclusively, Betsy Clapsaddle, the president of the board of Transit Now Nashville, said it’s also an option students can use occasionally when they don’t want to have to pay for parking or gas to travel in town.
“This helps them live their lives in the city without having to pay transportation costs,” she said.
Transit Now Nashville has held informational sessions around the city to show people how they can use public transit in their communities, and are now trying to take these sessions onto college campuses. On Thursday evening, they’ll be at the Student Activities Fair to reach out to students and inform them about public transit options around campus.
“A lot of times, students get to know about the bus routes [through the sessions],” Clapsaddle said. “It’s really important because they get to take advantage while they are on campus.”
As more people have used public transit in Nashville, attempts have been made to improve the system they operate under. Buses are becoming more efficient on their routes. New routes, including a West End route that begins just outside of the Athlete’s House, have been implemented since 2011. City officials are also debating whether to build a bus rapid transit lane – a lane of traffic only buses could use – from West End to Five Points in East Nashville.
“Public transit in Nashville is progressing,” Stevens said. “The more people that ride it, the better it will become. And if [people] give it the opportunity, they will ride.”