The Memphis Area Transit Authority is in crisis, with problems rooted in funding, routes, demographic changes, and the continued indifference of a public wed to the automobile.
Those are the issues that bedevil the system today, and those were the issues that vexed MATA, as well as local planning authorities, back in September 1996, as documented in Jacqueline Marino's Flyer cover story "The Long Road Home."
As Marino put it then, "For a world-class distribution center, Memphis still has problems transporting people from one side of town to the other. Supporters blame the situation on funding and image. ... Along with the age-old complaints that bus service is too slow, too limited, and too expensive, MATA faces increasing demands from businesses, riders, social advocates, and government critics."
Not much has changed. In 1996, Marino took note of a persistent critic: "'In Europe, in a language I don't know, I can figure out how to get places,' says city councilman John Vergos, one of MATA's most vocal critics. 'But here in the city I live in I can't figure the buses out. The route maps are confusing. A tourist at the Peabody has no idea how to get to Graceland ... . [General Manager William] Hudson knows I disagree with much of MATA's focus. It's not glamorous, but MATA needs to get to the nitty-gritty of running a bus system.'"
Hudson is still aboard and has made some changes over the years but is likely to have to withstand more criticism from Vergos, now an ex-councilman but still a critic and one who was appointed to MATA's governing board just this month by Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery.