VOL. 133 | NO. 172 | Thursday, August 30, 2018
MATA’s Lack of Funding Could Result in Route Cuts
Special to The Daily News
Routes proposed for elimination
34 Walnut Grove
38 Boxtown Westwood
47 Shelby Farms Park
The Memphis Area Transit Authority is proposing several adjustments to its bus network, including the elimination of seven routes. Tuesday night, MATA held a public hearing at the Benjamin Hooks Central Library for the proposed changes, which can be found here.
John Lancaster, MATA’s director of planning and scheduling, kicked off the meeting with a bleak outlook on MATA’s lack of funding and ability to provide service.
“[Memphis] Mayor [Jim] Strickland is very data driven. His mantra is ‘Back to the basics,’ so we’ve been trying to do that at MATA,” Lancaster said. “Just like anyone, we have to balance our checkbook and unfortunately, due to flat funding, we have to do that with our service.”
The service adjustments are based on ridership, Lancaster said. None of MATA’s bus routes are profitable. All are highly subsidized, Lancaster said, but the routes with the most ridership are 50 Poplar and 42 Crosstown.
One of the routes up for elimination is the 5 Central, which travels around the University of Memphis main campus and past Christian Brothers University and Southwest Tennessee Community College’s Downtown campus as well as other community amenities such as the KROC Center, Children’s Museum of Memphis and Pink Palace Museum.
The already heavily utilized 50 Poplar route would be adjusted to serve the U of M, which attendees Tuesday night said would make the Poplar route slower and potentially cause riders to be late to work.
Reached by phone Wednesday morning, U of M president M. David Rudd said he was unaware of the proposed service change eliminating the route serving the main campus.
“That would not be a particularly good move given that you are cutting a route that provides Memphians direct access to higher education,” Rudd said.
The Memphis Area Transit Authority is proposing several adjustments to its bus network, including the elimination of seven routes. John Lancaster, MATA’s director of planning and scheduling, said the service adjustments are based on ridership. The 50 Poplar is not being proposed for elimination. The Daily News/Houston Cofield
Rudd said he knows of several students who take the MATA bus to the U of M campus from Downtown.
“I encourage MATA to do a survey of ridership,” Rudd said, adding that the elimination of 5 Central could potentially impact the most vulnerable students who may not have another means of transportation.
Emily Matheney, who lives just north of the East Buntyn Historic District, has been riding the 5 Central since April to get to and from her job as a staff accountant at First Tennessee Bank Downtown. Although she lives 6.5 miles from work, her commute would increase to an hour if she had to take the 50 Poplar instead.
Since Strickland is a fan of data, Matheney has tracked the number of service disruptions since signing up for the Omnilert messaging service on June 4.
While there have been three disruptions on the 5 Central route since June 4, the 50 Poplar route has experienced more than 45 disruptions.
“You’re going to a less-reliable route,” Matheney said at Tuesday’s public hearing. “That’s not the way to attract more people to your service.”
Robert Hatfield, a Cooper-Young resident, has been using 5 Central as alternative transportation since February to get around Midtown, Downtown and East Memphis.
“I’ve been trying to sell this product to my friends and I’m realizing y’all are not marketing at all,” Hatfield said. “It’s nonexistent.”
Hatfield took a MATA bus to the public hearing from the Memphis City Council meeting and asked if council members were the right people to lobby for more funding.
“Getting funding is the key to improving the system,” Lancaster told Hatfield. “We wouldn’t be here today if MATA was adequately funded and City Council is a good place to start.”
MATA went to the neighboring municipalities of Bartlett and Germantown for additional funding, Lancaster said, and was “rejected by everybody.”
However, Lancaster said, he is more optimistic than ever with Shelby County Mayor-elect Lee Harris vowing to devote funding to MATA on the campaign trail.
With the passage of the statewide IMPROVE Act, Memphis is looking toward the option of holding a referendum for a dedicated funding stream, such as a portion of a tax, for MATA.
“We can’t lobby for a tax,” Lancaster said. “But you guys can and you can go to the politicians and lobby them. They control the purse strings.”
The final date for the public to submit comments on proposed service changes is Sept. 5. The MATA board of commissioners will vote on the proposed changes Sept. 27. Approved service adjustments will take effect Nov. 11.
“We’re hoping we don’t have to enact all of these proposed changes,” Lancaster said. “Where we learn we’re going to disrupt people’s lives the most, we’re going to try not to, but we have to balance the budget. That’s where we’re at.”