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VOL. 131 | NO. 35 | Thursday, February 18, 2016

MATA Chief: System ‘On Verge Of Collapse’

By Bill Dries

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The president and CEO of the Memphis Area Transit Authority said Tuesday, Feb. 16, that the city’s bus system will “collapse” without additional operating funds and city capital funding to buy new buses.

Memphis Area Transit Authority president Ron Garrison says the city’s bus system is “on the verge of collapse” without more city operating and capital funding.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

Ron Garrison delivered the dire warning to Memphis City Council members as he called for an $8 million increase in city operating funds in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and $5 million more in increased city capital funding to buy 11 new buses.

“MATA is really on the verge of collapse for a number of reasons,” Garrison began his presentation to a council executive session. “That means something to the economic viability of our citizens to get to work, to see the doctor, to go to school, to provide opportunity.”

The vast majority of MATA’s riders, estimated by the transit authority at 85 to 90 percent, have no other means of transportation. They rely on the buses to get around the city, including to work.

The increase in operating funds Garrison outlined would bring the total city operating funding to $30 million of MATA’s annual $58 million budget.

Garrison said the transit authority has been using operating funding to meet capital needs for years to a degree he’s never seen in a long career as the transit system leader and consultant.

“We took our capital dollars and we used them for operations,” he said. “That’s how MATA survived a number of years. I’ve managed seven transit systems. I’ve seen dozens. The most that I have ever used is 15 percent.

“When I got my first budget we were using 96.5 percent of our capital dollars for operating.”

–Ron Garrison
President and CEO, MATA

“If you look at this, in 1998 we used 20 percent,” he said. “When I got to my first (MATA) budget (in 2014) we were using 96.5 percent of our capital dollars for operating. What does that mean? No money for buses. That’s the most important thing I want you to take away today.”

And he warned that without increased funding by the city there will be “stark” service cuts starting this July.

Garrison is not requesting any action by the council at this point. But the city enters its annual budget season in April when Mayor Jim Strickland presents his budget proposal to the council.

MATA recently outlined a series of proposed route and service changes to start in May that are cost-neutral and increase the frequency of some routes and shorten others to set the stage for the increased funding.

The MATA board votes on the set of 35 changes in March.

Garrison also touted an improvement in the transit authority’s on-time performance percentage from 46 percent to 64 percent.

“That’s horrible,” he said of the earlier percentage. “How can you get to work and not lose your job?”

And Garrison cited a Brookings Institution study showing per capita city funding for MATA is $29 compared to $41 per capita in Nashville and $50 in Louisville, Ky.

Louisville is comparable in the services it offers and number of passengers, Garrison added, with $19 million more in city funding.

PROPERTY SALES 207 263 9,865
MORTGAGES 197 246 10,862
BUILDING PERMITS 138 686 21,643
BANKRUPTCIES 0 256 6,219