MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris unveiled his plan for more funding for public transit, and it includes a fee for households with three or more vehicles.
The proposal is planned to raise $10 million in dedicated funding for transit, but it must be approved by a supermajority of the Shelby County Commission, which is nine votes out of the 13-member body.
About $9 million of that comes from a proposed fee on vehicles. The fee would be $145 for each car in a household with three vehicles or more via a sustainability fee. It would also apply to businesses with corporate fleets.
The other $1 million would come from the county’s CIP budget toward transit.
Harris said the sustainability fee will not affect 83% of Shelby County residents.
Harris said putting the money toward transit will increase ridership, therefore reducing emissions, and help poverty by helping people get and keep their jobs. The first funds would be used to expand frequency of eight existing successful routes and creating a new express route to Memphis International Airport, the equivalent of roughly one million new rides a year.
“Everyone has to play a role in trying to preserve our shared environment, even local elected officials. We will all enjoy the benefits of clean air, reduced congestion, and a reduction in poverty. This sustainable investment in transit helps achieve all those objectives," Harris said, “I am trying as best as I can to move the needle where the need is greatest, and we all know there is a high poverty rate in many parts of our community, and that is driven because people don’t have access to jobs.”
MATA leadership said Wednesday they are ready to grow the network in Memphis.
“We have improved the on-time performance. We have reduced the number of breakdowns, and we have made public transportation part of the discussion,” said Gary Rosenfeld, CEO of MATA.
Commissioners expressed optimism about the plan, but others in suburban areas appeared more guarded over the potential impact to their constituents.
“It sounds like the suburbs will be footing the bill more so than Memphis city residents,” Commissioner Amber Mills remarked.
Shelby County Commission Chairman Mark Billingsley, whose term as head of the body started a few days ago, said he expects spirited debate.
“This may be very difficult because it doesn’t necessarily help everybody,” Billingsley said, “I think everybody’s constituents are going to react differently. I’m really curious as to what that’s going to look like.”
Viewers also weighed in on the WMC Action News 5 Facebook page, with some commenting that they were concerned on the impact for families with multiple teenagers driving and others saying the plan is unfair because county residents already pay wheel taxes.
“Apparently, no one in this comment thread realizes that a robust transit system makes a city much more viable and raises the living standard of everyone - even those who do not use it,” a supporter of the plan wrote.
MATA officials say they need $30 million to get the system up to speed. In June, the Shelby County Commission approved $2.5 million for next year’s budget. Harris said he’s been spending months talking to stakeholders and gathering feedback on the county’s public transit.
Harris is hoping for a commission vote on the proposal by February 2020. A series of community meetings are planned. The first one is set for Sept 15, 2019 at 4:30 p.m. at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Westwood.
“I’m not gonna do this us versus them. I didn’t run for office, so that I could divide up our community into different kinds of slices,” Harris said Wednesday when asked about criticism of the plan.