The Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) will receive a $2.5 million investment
from the county that will go toward implementing parts of the Transit Vision plan, including a transit on-demand model for two areas.
The Shelby County Commission voted 9-4 Monday in favor of a resolution sponsored by Commissioner Tami Sawyer to allocate the funds.
MATA CEO Gary Rosenfeld presented a spending plan for $2.5 million in capital improvement funds last week, which he says will be used to implement parts of the Transit Vision plan — a piece of the comprehensive Memphis 3.0 plan, the guiding document for how the city moves forward over the next several years.
“As we move to the next step in the evolution of this pandemic, we will be using the Transit Vision plan to re-tool the network as we come out of this,” Rosenfeld said. “This is kind of a positive outcome of the pandemic, if you will. We are able to move in the direction of starting to put the transit vision in place.”
Rosenfeld said the county’s $2.5 million will be invested in three projects. The first is a demand-response system for two areas, Boxtown/Westwood and the Downtown entertainment district.
Rosenfeld said in the Boxtown/Westwood area, the ridership count doesn’t suggest that there should be a complete fixed-route service. But the demand-response model will improve residents’ opportunity to get to public transportation and provide service in an efficient manner, Rosenfeld said.
The model will work similar to Uber, allowing people to call in and get picked up at their house, transporting them anywhere within a certain zone or connecting them with the transit network.
In the entertainment district, MATA plans to provide a similar service. Rosenfeld said employees in this district often cannot catch a bus home because their shifts end long after the buses stop running. With the new service, employees in the district will be able to call in and be picked up and driven home.
Rosenfeld said the endeavor for both areas will require seven vehicles, which will cost a total of $500,000.
MATA also plans to put $1 million of the county’s investment into a mini transit center near Third and Brooks. Rosenfeld said the center will house four to five bays and will meet the need of new routes in the Transit Vision Plan.
Lastly, Rosenfeld said MATA will provide the local match portion for the $75 million Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, which is mostly funded by federal grants. The BRT would be a high-frequency route from Downtown to the University of Memphis.
Rosenfeld said all three areas of investment are “highly visible” and would “greatly enhance everyone's access to public transit in the future.”
The Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope (MICAH), which has long been advocating for more funding for MATA, commended the county commission’s decision to allocate the $2.5 million.
“Both now and as our regional economy begins to heal, our public transit system is critical,” said Ayana Watkins, executive director of MICAH. “It matters now for essential workers and residents who depend on public transit for food, supplies, and health care. And it will matter as we all begin returning to work and school en masse."
Samantha Bradshaw, co-chair of MICAH’s economic equity task force said the county’s investment is a “hopeful recognition that the county intends to keep transit a top priority to encourage a restored and more equitable local economy."
“Memphis Transit 3.0 needs to keep on track to ensure the many Memphians who don’t have access to better paying jobs have an equal shot at a job that supports their families at a dignified level,” Bradshaw said.
MICAH also urges the city to reconsider its “drastic reduction” to MATA funding of $10 million, noting that public transportation has been underfunded for decades, “unable to maintain service levels from year to year, much less afford the needed upgrades to make it a truly viable system.”
Bradshaw encourages the city to prioritize funding for MATA so that “the planned improvements of Memphis Transit 3.0 can enable all residents to have equitable access to jobs, education, necessities, and the full scope of all this city and county has to offer.”