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Then and Now

Retired councilman John Vergos still wants MATA to revamp its bus system.

By Mary Cashiola

It was one of his first orders of city business, as well as one of his last.

When city councilman John Vergos first ran for office in 1979, one of his platforms was rerouting MATA's bus system. And more than 20 years later, at his final public-safety committee meeting last week, he once more urged MATA president and general manager William Hudson to look at using a grid system.

"I think we have a responsibility to provide transportation service," Vergos said when asked about it later. "I don't think we're doing a very good job and that's sad."

Vergos, who decided not to run for reelection this year, presented two maps during the meeting. One, his hand-drawn grid system, showed buses running straight down major north/south and east/west thoroughfares. The other showed MATA's current hub system, which requires many riders to transfer at one of three transfer centers -- the North End Terminal, Central Station, or the American Way Transfer Center.

"It wasn't some epiphany," he said about going to Europe in 1977 and using bus systems there as a model for Memphis. "I thought, Why can I do this in Yugoslavia and I can't do this in Memphis?"

He considers the current system confusing and cumbersome. A domestic worker who lives in South Memphis but works in East Memphis has to take a bus to the downtown transfer center in the evening, then catch another bus southbound.

Vergos, who said he is tired of seeing empty buses as well as buses running down small residential streets, acknowledges that under his plan people may have to walk farther to a bus stop than they do now. "I'd bet that people would rather walk four blocks and it take them 20 minutes to get home," he said, "than have to ride downtown and transfer and it take them an hour and a half to get home."

MATA's Hudson told the council committee that the bus system was designed according to a rider's origin and destination. He said he would adopt a grid system if the council directed him, but they should expect it to cost about $50 million and take at least a year to 18 months to implement.

When asked about it later, Hudson attributed the higher costs to an increase in the number of drivers and buses. According to a study commissioned by MATA in the 1980s, the success of a grid system depends on frequent service on all lines.

"I'm not opposed to the grid system," he said by telephone. "The problem I'm having is that Memphis streets north and south are not a true grid. They don't go through." Hudson said MATA's plan is to add two transfer centers at Airways and Winchester and in North Memphis to ring the city with places to transfer.

"If you go to the North End transfer center downtown, you can get anywhere in Shelby County," Hudson said.

Councilman Janet Hooks asked Hudson to investigate the possibilities of a grid system and get back to the council. She said she has heard stories about riders sometimes taking hours to reach their destination with MATA. "I'm always amazed at the number of transfers it takes to get from one point to another," she said.

Hudson expects to have an answer for the council after the first of the year.

"If it will really cost $50 million a year rather than $18 million now, that's another story," said Vergos, "but I wish they would do a report and tell me that so I could shut up about this."

Now that he is off the council, Vergos said he is not sure what he wants to do, but maybe, just maybe, he'd like to be appointed to MATA's board of directors.

E-mail: cashiola@memphisflyer.com

Under New Management

Children's Services names new Shelby County leadership.

By Janel Davis

This week, the Department of Children's Services announced the regional team for its Shelby County office, placing three employees in permanent leadership positions.

Trudy Weatherford will lead the team as regional director. She will be joined by assistant director Antoinette Holman and Dorothy Miller, the regional supervising attorney.

The announcement comes after almost six months of interim leadership in that office.

The office's top position was left vacant after regional administrator Juanita White was fired by former DCS commissioner Mike Miller in June. At the time of that announcement, Miller cited "personal reasons" for the termination.

The regional and city directors position were temporarily held by Weatherford, the former program director of Child Protective Services, and Bill Hackett. Weatherford had been brought out of retirement to manage the region, and Hackett had been placed in charge of the Memphis office.

While a state audit of White's office revealed questionable spending practices, a more recent investigation into child deaths within the region cleared White of any alleged cover-up.

Mike Miller appointed a 12-member committee to recommend appointees to the director position, but according to the department spokesman, Carla Aaron, he did not select any of the committee's candidates.

"I'm not sure why [Mike Miller] did not select from the committee's recommendations," she said. "He actually made these appointments before leaving office, and the team was in place when he left." Mike Miller left office in November.

Although Weatherford was not selected by the committee as a director candidate, Aaron pointed out her years of experience with the department. Before retiring in 2002, Weatherford worked within the department for more than 30 years, beginning in the Shelby County office in 1969. As regional director, she will be responsible for more than 325 employees and 1,350 children in DCS custody.

"It was my understanding of the situation that Weatherford agreed to stay on to train Holman for that [director] position," said selection committee member Nancy Lawhead. "She's a seasoned professional, and Holman [who has worked with the Memphis Shelby County Community Services Agency] would be good for a relationship with that agency."

Holman began her duties at DCS on December 1st. Dorothy Miller has been a staff attorney with the department the past four years.

E-mail: jdavis@memphisflyer.com

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