Bus System Funding Woes Continue

By Bill Dries

The same week that the Memphis Area Transit Authority got $469,040 in city funding restored by the Memphis City Council, it lost $430,000 in funding from the state of Tennessee.

And as the transit authority board approved some service changes that restored some of the service that was to be cut, one board member suggested exploring filing for bankruptcy reorganization.

“We had two or three major automobile companies that have gone into chapter 11. Every airline of any major consequence has been in chapter 11. We’ve seen cities and counties that are going into reorganization,” board member John Vergos said. “I don’t see why we cannot consider the possibilities. It may not work.”

Finance Director Gilbert Noble said one complication is that the transit authority is a part of the city of Memphis. Noble also said there may be “easier” ways for MATA to meet its unfunded liabilities, the issue that prompted Vergos’s suggestion.

Meanwhile, board chairman Sean Healy said the board will consider further budget cuts at its September meeting because of the state funding reductions. Approval of the bus system’s operating budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 is also on the September agenda.

Approval of the budget was delayed as the council considered the proposed restoration of funding approved this week at City Hall.

The new developments in the transit authority’s funding dilemma came at the end of a three-hour board meeting. The board heard from dozens of people who applauded some of the restorations of planned service cuts but also leveled withering criticism at the transit authority for other changes and the general state of the bus system.

The transit authority has lost $5.4 million in funding. The city council restored $606,000 in the city budget approved in late June and this week restored another $469,040.

The funding restored this week was tied to restoring specific service including trolley hours that the transit authority had planned to cut.

Bus service to Presidents Island, which was to be cut, will remain when the changes take effect on Sept. 22. Service to Frayser and Northaven continues although with some changes in routes and hours of operation and frequency of trips along the routes.

A new 42 Crosstown route combined three old routes including one of the two Frayser routes, substituting a Frayser-Whitehaven passage with transfers. It also includes the old 31 Crosstown route.

The 43 Elvis Presley Boulevard route is the third route combined into the 42 Crosstown service. But there is a 46 “Whitehaven Flyer” route that offers express service on Elvis Presley Boulevard.

The flyer is the bus system’s only venture into Bus Rapid Transit service that moves along a major thoroughfare with more frequency and fewer stops aside from major destinations.

The transit authority tried a Poplar Express for several months before discontinuing it in 2012, citing a lack of ridership. Some on the transit authority board said the lack of ridership followed a lack of promotion.