MATA asks Shelby County Commission for $3-6M for improvements

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The head of Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) is asking for more money to help expand service around Memphis, but the request to Shelby County Commissioners didn't come without criticism.

MATA's CEO Gary Rosenfeld told commissioners that county money could help improve MATA's service. Yet, a handful of commissioners didn't appear interested.

"It's important to have the dialogue. It's important to bring the new ideas to our community," Rosenfeld said.

Rosenfeld went before commissioners with a preliminary ask of between $3 and $6 million to help redesign the bus network and improve frequency.

The request drew a flurry of opinions from commissioners.

"I think we've quite frankly missed our opportunity for good public transportation here," Commissioner Mark Billingsley said.

"MATA has never come up as a priority in the district," Commissioner David Reaves said.

MATA serves roughly 24,000 people daily and has an operating budget of $62 million that's comprised of state and federal dollars and fares.

The City of Memphis contributes $29 million, but MATA receives no direct funding from the county.

Rosenfeld said the problem with MATA's route structure is that currently it's designed to cover more of the county but less frequently, which means sometimes a round trip can take hours.

MATA believes additional frequency would ultimately attract more riders.

"If we are looking to change the growth factor, the opportunity factor here in Memphis, we have to stop doing things the way we have done them in the past and start looking to make investments in public transit," Rosenfeld said.

Still, some commissioners pointed to a recent mass transit upgrade vote in Nashville that failed as a sign there isn't a public appetite for such improvements.

Commissioner Van Turner urged others to think of the future in Memphis.

"We need to think about what will the city and county be 20-30 years from now, and I think if we leave out mass transit, we do a disservice to this county and this city," he said.

The current fare is $3.50 unlimited for a day pass

MATA said it is tough to raise fares because it decreases ridership and many of their riders are minimum wage workers who don't see routine raises.

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