Music City Star fails to meet ridership goals

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Nashville's new Music City Star commuter-train service has been carrying passengers for a month, but so far it would need several hundred more riders each day to meet its goal of 1,500 daily riders by this time next year, the Nashville Tennessean reported. Backers of line are hoping a $165,000 advertising campaign and the support of Nashville employers will entice more passengers to ride. The "Star" operates between east-suburban Lebanon and Nashville on short line Nashville & Eastern, years ago the Tennessee Central.

Allyson Shumate, project manager for the Music City Star, remains optimistic about reaching the ridership goal next year. "We believe it is very realistic," Shumate told the Tennessean. "With these type of services it usually takes nine months to a year. ... It takes a while for these systems to grow. This is the first transportation alternative like this in the whole state." She said the Star has been focused on providing basic service and promoting ridership through employers, especially downtown Nashville businesses. Other marketing tactics and partnerships will be tried, she said.

Many transit systems have tried to boost ridership by offering free rides the first few weeks of service - New Mexico's new Rail Runner commuter trains in Albuquerque are an example. But organizers of the Music City Star have shied away from offering the service for free thus far. "You really don't ever want to give service away, because then people tend to think it may have no value, and you want them to think of the service as something of value," Shumate told the Tennessean.

Among the employers cooperating in the effort to utilize the train is Belmont University, which pays for tickets for its 5,200 students, faculty, and staff. The effort, begun October 16, is aimed at easing students' and employees' gas costs and relieving congestion and demand for campus parking. LifeWay Christian Resources has signed up for a program so employees can pay a portion of their ticket costs through pre-tax payroll deduction. That benefit will start January 1, 2007, and applies to LifeWay's entire work force, including 1,500 in the Nashville area.

But for everyone who helps promote the train, another four say "thanks, but no," Glenda St. Cyr, who has done employer outreach for the service, told the Tennessean. The chief reason is that the train's schedule only works for a limited number of workers, while many employees work second or third shifts, she said. The train is budgeted to cost $3.3 million this fiscal year. Rail fares are projected to pay for $1.3 million of that cost, while the balance is subsidized by tax dollars from federal, state, and local governments.
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