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VOL. 11 | NO. 15 | Saturday, April 14, 2018

Editorial: Fix Memphis’ Bus System Before It Slows Progress

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Some details in the recently released draft for a reconfiguration of the Memphis Area Transit Authority bus system will likely change before the plan becomes final. After that, the issue is whether a lack of funding will put the brakes on the plan before it can be implemented.

That would be unfortunate. We’re already at a point where the lack of a better bus system is keeping Memphis from moving forward in other ways.

Development built for greater density requires parking in car-centric cities like Memphis, which defeats the basic purpose and philosophy of increased density.

For too long, MATA has been a relic, a patchwork system that makes traveling between two places an unnecessarily long and difficult task.

Consultants who are helping Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s administration develop the broader Memphis 3.0 plan approached the transit problem by looking at a map of the city with no existing bus routes – and for planning purposes, that’s the way it should be.

But when it comes to the actual plan, we can’t simply dismantle the current bus system and start fresh. Too many people depend on this tortured and starved system of public transportation to get to work, even if that means being at the bus stop two or three hours early to ensure they’re able to clock in on time, then repeating the entire process to get home when the workday is over.

Most of those who ride with the Memphis Area Transit Authority today have no other form of transportation, so any overhaul of the bus system has to work for them – and it has to work better as it seeks new riders who have cars but choose to take public transportation.

These two groups are not mutually exclusive. You see them and they see you during the same morning and afternoon rush hours. What improves for one will entice the other.

It isn’t reasonable for a one-way trip anywhere in Memphis to take longer than an hour. If a bus round-trip adds up to half an eight-hour workday, the bus system isn’t helping.

Whatever the reconfiguration plan looks like in its final form, the changes must work for those existing riders who don’t have any other way to get around in our car-centric city.

Employee subsidies are the least employers who don’t want to pay a living wage should be able to do.

And to gain new ridership among Memphians who might choose to leave their cars at home and take the bus instead, the reconfigured system must be able to connect with ride-share services such as Uber and Lyft, as well as privately operated shuttle systems that already exist or might pop up for one-of-a-kind events.

At this early stage, the powers that be should avoid parking penalties other cities have used to drive citizens to public transportation. Selling a better funded, overhauled bus system to deservedly skeptical Memphians is job one.

Get the ridership by putting buses and greater frequency where the riders – actual and potential – are now, and build density to grow the ridership beyond that.

PROPERTY SALES 103 137 4,008
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BUILDING PERMITS 178 368 9,636
BANKRUPTCIES 50 110 2,995