VOL. 117 | NO. 124 | Thursday, June 26, 2003
TDOT plan would double MATA ridership
TDOT plan would double MATA ridership
By LANCE ALLAN
The Daily News
Memphis air is not exactly pure the Memphis and Shelby
County Health Department can attest to that. Today marks one more day in a
string of summer days the department has placed the area under Code Orange
status because of its forecasted high ozone levels.
And, if the Tennessee Department of Transportations
projections for a population increase in the state are correct, air quality
concerns will have to be addressed or ozone levels will remain high, TDOT
For that reason, TDOT has hosted a series of regional
meetings throughout June to discuss ways to increase transit usage in the state
through its Transit for Tennessee 2025 initiative.
This is the first time the Tennessee Department of
Transportation has attempted to go statewide to all 26 agencies we partner with
to determine their needs for a 20-year planning period, said Ben Smith,
director of TDOTs public transportation, waterways and rail division.
TDOT sponsored six public meetings in smaller, regional
cities in June. A second round of meetings will be held in the larger
metropolitan areas of Memphis, Chattanooga, Nashville and Knoxville this fall.
According to TDOT, the states population is estimated to
grow 25 percent between 2002 and 2025. With that population growth comes more
automobile traffic on the roadways, clogging the streets and damaging the
When TDOT visits Memphis in September or October, officials
will hear public comments presumably good and bad about transit in the
We want to assess their needs for that whole period, Smith
said. We want to know how people feel; do they want to see improvements.
He said one of many topics of discussion in Memphis probably
will center on a proposed light rail system.
A more pressing need, though considering the light rail
project could be years from fruition is changing perception about public
transportation in Memphis.
Ive worked in transit for over 25 years and I believe the
perception is that public transit is for poor black people, said Alison
Burton, marketing and customer service director for the Memphis Area Transit
Authority. I think people perceive some fear of waiting in a bus stop. It
doesnt have to do with transit, but thats society today.
Thats why we have three terminals, two Downtown.
Central Station in the South Main area, the North End
Terminal next to The Pyramid and the Southeast Terminal on American Way each
serve as a safe collection point for transit riders, she said.
Our goal is to build more of those around the city, Burton
said. And certainly, waiting in one of those is better than standing at
American Way and Getwell.
Changing Memphians perception is just one way TDOT could
achieve its goal of getting more people in vehicles of higher occupancy, as
Smith put it.
Another way would be to simply provide more busses. But
funding can sometimes be a difficult hurdle to clear.
We dont have a dedicated source of funding like some other
cities may have, Burton said.
MATA receives funding from the city and state, and some federal
aid. And, of course, theres the money generated from riders.
Some metropolitan areas have taxes to help fund public
transportation. That might or might not be an option in Shelby County.
For now, Burton said MATA will focus on marketing. The
agency has hired two firms Memphis-based Thompson & Co. and the Bingham
Group from Knoxville to market MATA.
The majority of MATAs ridership includes those who have no
other option for transportation but the bus, Burton said.
We average 50,000 riders a day, and they know the routes
better than I do, she said.
That doesnt help TDOTs goal of getting automobiles off the
Burton said theres one idea that could work in Memphis,
What would be more attractive to individuals living in
outlying areas (such as Collierville and Germantown) I think they would like
a dedicated parking area that is secure, Burton said about a park-and-ride
type system. Somewhere they could drive to, a 0- to 5-mile radius of where
they live. They could park, board a transit vehicle and take an express trip to
Downtown or Midtown.
That express trip would have very few stops, obviously
making it a quicker trip than a city bus.
MATA doesnt have anything like that in place, but the
agency does operate an express from Memphis International Airport to several
It might take that express bus system or the proposed light
rail option to get more autos off the streets and their drivers onto mass
TDOT hopes to find out which options are most viable this
fall from the public.