In Nashville, TN, Neighborhood Health, a nonprofit organization that serves patients regardless of their ability to pay, partners with the city’s transit organization to get people to appointments.
During the COVID 19 Pandemic, WeGo Public Transit, metro Nashville’s public transit agency, was contacted by Neighborhood Health, a non-profit organization. Patients who didn’t have access to a car and people experiencing homelessness were having difficulty getting to their clinics to get COVID tests, and later to vaccine clinics. To serve this immediate need, WeGo coordinated with the clinics to provide mobility using their buses and drivers. Neighborhood Health’s patient no show and cancellation rates decreased, and WeGo looked for ways to expand these services.
Challenging needs and changing population
The average person in Nashville is almost twice as likely not to have health insurance than the average American. “Neighborhood health is critical for giving people service regardless of their health insurance status, for primary or secondary care,” explained Eric Melcher, WeGo Public Transit’s Public Information Officer. “We’re happy to partner with them because we know that a lot of the work they do is preventative.”
Nashville’s population is also growing and changing. In the past decade, the city has grown by almost 15%, with many of the newcomers identifying as Asian. “We’ve been doing translations in Spanish, Arabic, Kurdish, and Somali, but we simply don’t have the resources to provide translations for all of the languages spoken here,” said Melcher.
To adapt to this growing need, his team has been working closely with social workers at Neighborhood Health and other nonprofits to teach newcomers how to use the public transit system.
Adapting the system
In addition to transporting patients to Neighborhood Health, WeGo provides transportation for people experiencing homelessness to go to emergency cold shelters on nights that approach or are below freezing. The city’s emergency cold shelter is located outside of areas where there are concentrations of people experiencing homelessness and are not on regular bus routes. Because of this, the WeGo team partners with non-profit organizations on cold days to proactively ensure that all people have access to shelter.
Recently, WeGo has seen their overall rider usage go up dramatically, largely in part to increased service. “When we have busses every 10-12 minutes, not every half hour, it’s much more convenient for people,” said Melcher.
Overall, the system has reached 90% of pre-Pandemic ridership levels, and has seen a 130% increase on one line.
The team is also being challenged to innovate to fit the community’s needs with limited resources. “We don’t have a dedicated funding source for public transit,” said Melcher. “We base our budget year to year on local, state, and federal sources.”
Because so many people depend on public transit that don’t live walking distance to a fixed bus route, WeGo has worked to identify first and last mile solutions. Residents can apply for discounted $2 Uber rides to the transit line nearest to their home. Additionally, all WeGo Buses are equipped with bike racks.
“We’re looking to connect downtown to more bike lanes and transit specific lanes,” said Melcher. “We’re not doing this for the tourists, we’re doing it for the working people who need to get there.”