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VOL. 129 | NO. 103 | Wednesday, May 28, 2014

MATA President Calls for Expanded Service

By Bill Dries

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The interim leader of the Memphis Area Transit Authority wants the city’s bus line to get more involved in “transportation management associations.”

MATA’s interim president and general manager, Tom Fox, describes the associations as “groups of employers banding together to provide some kind of services to supplement what MATA can provide.”

“We are always willing to work with employers,” Fox said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines. “Employers can buy passes for employees and that would help defray the cost.”

The program, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.

The transit authority already has some formidable competition around Memphis in the form of the “Memphis Hop” line of smaller buses that runs among tourist and other cultural attractions, the “Blueline” buses that run on the University of Memphis campus and most recently the Overton Park shuttles now being used on a trial basis.

The transit authority is not involved in any of those efforts.

Fox said “Memphis Hop” is an example of what the bus line would like to do around serving clusters of workers.

“It usually comes down to, if we are going to expand service, how is that service going to be paid for?” he added. “That’s a private sector initiative, which certainly helps fill the gap in some of the things MATA is not really set up to do.”

Fox is serving as interim leader of the transit authority following the departure of long-time MATA President William Hudson and as City Hall mounts a national search for a new leader.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. has indicated he wants to see the transit authority take a new direction with new leadership.

Just last week, he sent a slate of new nominees for the transit authority board to the Memphis City Council for approval in June. The slate includes Martin Lipinski, director of the Intermodal Freight Transportation Institute at the University of Memphis, and Shelia Williams, a college student and member of the Memphis Bus Riders Union, a recently formed consumer group that has been critical of transit authority policies and actions.

Fox indicated he wants to expand the transit system.

“I think we’d like to cover more area than we do now,” he said. “It’s our vision that we would expand to be a true regional transit agency and strengthen our core services in the areas where people that don’t have cars need a high level of service, then expand out to different types of service for the areas with people with cars.”

Transit authority officials told the council’s budget committee earlier this month that overall bus ridership is declining. But Fox said the transit authority has seen thousands of bike riders per month who are using the bike racks on the front of buses to connect with bike lanes and greenways that didn’t yet exist when the buses began the bike rack service eight years ago.

City Engineer John Cameron, on the same program, said that helps “extend the range of the bus routes.”

“The bus routes may not be able to cover, get close to everybody. But with a bicycle, if you live within a mile of a bus route, you can get there relatively easy,” he said. “It can help close this economic gap for folks who may not have an automobile in their household or have one automobile in their household.”

To Cameron, density or the lack of it is the challenge for all modes of transportation and the impact they have.

“We are relatively low density, population wise,” Cameron said, referring to the 345 square miles that are the geographic area of the city of Memphis. “So providing transportation over such a large footprint is really a challenge.”

Pragati Srivastava, administrator of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, added that as she, Cameron and Fox look at the region, they have to balance that with how to maintain the infrastructure and services now in place.

Srivastava’s organization is federally funded and covers not only Shelby County, but Fayette County in Tennessee and DeSoto and Marshall counties in North Mississippi.

Srivastava said the continued work on improving the city’s major freight corridor – Lamar Avenue – will continue “piecemeal.”

“Unfortunately, the cost is really high. It’s going to be done piecemeal,” she said. “Most of the freight traffic that we have in our area – close to 50 percent is truck traffic. Even though the trucks are coming in and out of the intermodal yards through the Port Authority area as well as the airport area, there is a lot of truck traffic.”

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