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VOL. 133 | NO. 72 | Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Bus System Overhaul Would Shift Balance of Service to More Frequency

By Bill Dries

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Consultants mapping a reconstruction of the city’s bus system are suggesting $30 million more a year in annual city funding for the system and a shift of bus service so that 70 percent of the routes have a higher frequency, reducing wait times during peak hours on major north-south and east-west corridors.

The consultants working for the city as part of the larger Memphis 3.0 plan for the next 20 years presented its draft report Tuesday, April 10, to Memphis City Council members.

The recommendation would flip the balance of service so that higher frequency routes would become the majority of bus service.

A draft plan city leaders are considering would create at least four major routes for more frequent bus service and shift the balance of service to build ridership. (Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

The current mix of bus service by the Memphis Area Transit Authority is 60 percent “coverage” – less frequent service that provides basic bus access to all areas – and 40 percent is “ridership” – a higher frequency of trips on major thoroughfares.

“We should balance it at 70 percent ridership, 30 percent coverage with an additional investment of about $30 million a year in the system,” said Scudder Wagg, a consultant with Jarrett Walker + Associates of Portland, Oregon, at a taping of the WKNO/Channel 10 program “Behind The Headlines” that airs Friday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 8:30 a.m.

“Today, the closest thing you have to frequent service are the trolley routes and the Poplar (Avenue) route. Everything else runs only every 30 minutes or every 60 minutes,” he said.

The transition would take about three to four years to implement and feature “at least four high-frequency routes that cover large parts of the city and increase job access for the average person by almost 40 percent,” Wagg said.

Those five routes, along with the existing Poplar route, would be Union Avenue, Airways-Cooper, Elvis Presley, Watkins and Cleveland, and Lamar Avenue.

The draft does not identify where the additional $30 million would come from. MATA receives a mix of city, state and federal funding.

“The new dollars go to ridership,” said Suzanne Carlson of Innovate Memphis who is part of the Memphis 3.0 planning team.

Carlson said the $30 million would be both capital and annual operating funding.

“In the beginning, it would be more capital to buy more buses, make some improvements on the streets where we are going to have a lot of buses, better shelters, and then as we go forward, more on operating,” she said.

In putting together the draft plan, the consultants got some public input into how much Memphians might be willing to pay at the fare box for such a mix of service.

“Five to eight dollars was sort of the average people said they would be willing to pay per month, per household, for better transit service,” Carlson said. “We’re asking the same question again.”

The draft plan can be found at www.memphis3point0.com/transit and includes a survey.

Memphis 3.0 is the master plan for the next 20 years of overall development across the city started by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, who wants to roll out the plan starting in 2019 as the city marks its bicentennial.

“We started from a completely blank map,” Wagg said. “We want to be sure that anyone who is near a stop today will still be near a stop in the future – within a half mile, a quarter mile. It doesn’t mean that stop will be in the same place or the route will be in the same place or the route will take you the exact same route. We intentionally designed it so that everyone who is near service today is still near service with the redesigned service. Most people are near much better service.”

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