Last Sunday I was at a friend's birthday party and the conversation turned to transportation. I didn't prompt it - but it came from someone telling the story of how they took a Greyhound bus to Nashville.
The conversation quickly turned into a discussion of transit and taking the bus here in Louisville. I asked how many of them had ever taken the bus here and the answer was what I expected. While most of them have used transit in other major cities, not one person had ridden a bus in Louisville.
And that wasn't all. They didn't know that everyone in Kentucky has access to transit. They didn't realize that TARC, our city's transit agency, provides direct routes to major employers - because these employers want to make sure their workforce can get to work. They also didn't know that our transit providers make more than 31 million trips per year giving people access to education and employment. They didn't realize one of the goals of our transit services is to provide global connectivity for people - for instance, a rural Kentuckian would have access to transit to get them to an airport or an Amtrak station so they would be able to get where they want or need to go throughout the world.
And the thing is - my friends aren't the only people who don't know these things about transit. Most people don't understand what transit really does for our community and our economy.
Most everyone I know has easy access to private transportation. They can jump in their car without a second thought and go where they need or want to go. From school to work to medical visits to the grocery store, to another state, most of us take those trips without even thinking about how we will get there.
But if you don't have access to private transportation - how do you get everywhere you need to go?
Do you depend on someone else to take you? What if they aren't available? Do you just miss work that day? Do you miss your doctor's appointment? Do you just not go to school? For most of us, just not going is just not an option.
Thankfully, in our great state, not having your own car doesn't mean you can't have a job or an education or access to healthcare. No matter where you are in the state you can use transit to improve your quality of life. And we know it is working. Our transit providers make more than 11 million trips to employers like UPS, Humana, GE, eBay, and Amazon. They are also providing more than 3 million trips to schools like Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Northern Kentucky University, and the University of Louisville.
Unfortunately, all our transit service and the access it provides is at risk.
In Kentucky, our transit providers have been able to use toll credits - or earned credits - to meet our federal match requirement to obtain federal dollars to make necessary capital improvements. Which includes buying buses - which many of our transit systems desperately need to continue serving their growing customer bases.
In 2020, we will use all of our toll credits. That means Kentucky will have to use actual money - not credits - to meet our federal match requirement to access more than $25 million in federal money to improve our transit system.
We will need between $6 and $10 million dollars to do that. That's money that hasn't been appropriated for our transit program. But in order to continue serving our people as we are today - we must have those funds.
I remind people all the time - transit is not an entitlement. It is a service that is directly related to economic development and improved quality of life. And it benefits everyone - not just the millions of Kentuckians who depend on it everyday.
I for one don't want to find out how we manage without it - and I hope that our elected leadership doesn't either.