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VOL. 131 | NO. 64 | Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Consultant: Rapid Transit Route Would Be a Boon for MATA

By Madeline Faber

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The Memphis Area Transit Authority is throwing its weight behind a new route that would connect Downtown to the University of Memphis area with a bus every 10 minutes.

If approved, a new nine-mile bus route would bring attractive, high-tech bus shelters to parts of Poplar and Union avenues.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

Over the past two years, an outside consulting group has been working with MATA on the Midtown Area Connector plan. The aim is to improve connecting service from the inside out by focusing on a main artery in the urban core.

At a March 28 public meeting, MATA and consulting group HDR, Inc. presented their recommendation for this service, called Route 11. The greater MATA board of commissioners is expected to review the route at its March 29 meeting.

If approved, it will cost $37.2 million to get the nine-mile route up and running. Buses that run along Poplar and Union avenues on Route 11 will be branded and serviced in a way Memphis hasn’t seen before.

It’s called Bus Rapid Transit. This is a high-capacity transit system that moves more people than a regular bus, has fewer stops, higher speeds and more frequent service.

The route will make 31 stops in the stretch from Downtown to the University of Memphis. The shelters along the route will be new, high-tech structures with the potential to display real-time bus tracking as well as sell and print tickets.

“The bus stops are more attractive and branded and something people actually want to build around,” said consultant Taiwo Jaiyeoba, adding that homes along the BRT route will see an increase in property values and underutilized parcels will see redevelopment.

The actual buses will be similar to others in MATA’s fleet. The route is expected to take 44 minutes. The exact site of the two terminals is to be decided.

The new route will cost $4.6 million in annual operations and maintenance costs. That’s 8 percent of MATA’s $58 million operating budget.

Existing ridership along that route is 1,600 passengers with six routes around or contributing to the corridor.

“With better service, this is the trunk line in the city that connects with our other routes. And we will structure our other routes to feed into and connect to this so that's another thing that generally helps give your ridership a boost,” said John Lancaster, manager of planning with MATA.

The consultants believe that BRT service will nearly double that figure to 3,061 average daily riders. That’s going to require a cultural change for Memphis’ car-dependent culture. The vast majority of MATA’s riders, estimated by the transit authority at 85 to 90 percent, have no other means of transportation.

“I can tell you there is no bus rapid transit system that the federal government has funded that actually came below the projection,” said Jaiyeoba. “It's mostly because people see a new service, they feel comfortable with it, they feel safer to an extent – in the end safety is about your perception, right? And they use it.”

Jaiyeoba added that everything will fall into place with funding. The Federal Transit Administration funded the Midtown Area Connector study and will likely stay on board to fund part of the route. Jaiyeoba said it’s not out of the question for the FTA to fund 80 percent of the capital expenditures.

MATA is moving quickly with the proposal to reach an April 29 application date for a Transportation Investment Generating Recovery grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In one of the consultant’s proposed funding scenarios, a $20 million TIGER grant would be supplemented with federal and state funds, with the city contributing between $3.7 million and $8.6 million in upfront costs.

With design and construction following approvals from the MATA board and the Memphis Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, it could be another two to three years before the route is in place.

In February, MATA CEO Ron Garrison said that the Memphis transit system was “on the verge of collapse,” in a plea to the Memphis City Council for an $8 million increase in operating funds and a $5 million increase in capital funding to replace 11 buses that are past their prime.

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