MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A new plan to raise millions of dollars to improve MATA bus service is raising eyebrows. Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris wants to levy a fee on families and businesses with three or more vehicles.
Own more than two cars? You’d pay a $145 fee for each additional car in your household or company fleet.
Mayor Harris says the fee will generate $9 million for MATA. But critics say it will drive more people out of Shelby County.
Harris campaigned for mayor promising a funding solution for MATA. Bus company execs say they need an additional $30 million a year to bring MATA up to the standards required to serve the local population adequately.
Harris announced a $10 million plan on Wednesday, Sept. 4.
"I am trying as best I can," he told reporters, "to move the needle where the need is greatest."
Mayor Harris says his plan would allow MATA to expand service, helping more citizens in low income areas of Memphis and Shelby County get to and from work. $9 million of that would be raised by imposing a new “sustainability fee”, a $145 charge, per car, if you or your company owns three or more vehicles. You wouldn’t be assessed a fee on the first two cars, just the vehicles beyond that.
The Memphis Bus Riders Union likes the idea of more reliable, more frequent bus service.
"I think this plan is really compelling," said Justin Davis, "it's really hitting on a lot of the stuff the Bus Riders Union has been talking about again and again."
The sustainability fee would have to be approved by the 13-member Shelby County Commission.
"I think everybody's constituents are going to react differently," said Commission Chairman Mark Billingsley. "I'm really curious as to what that's going to look like."
Here's a preview of the reaction on Twitter Wednesday night:
"Nope, not a fan of this idea," tweets Keith Warren.
"These idiots are trying to drive people out of Shelby County," posted Sam Ross.
And Johnnie 95305655 tweeted, "I hope Mayor Harris and commission will be holding public hearings to educate the citizens on this issue."
At least three public hearings are scheduled:
- September 15th
- 4:30 p.m.
- Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Westwood
- September 26th
- Impact Baptist Church in Frayser
- October 7th
- 6 p.m.
- Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Midtown
Public debate is expected to be heated.
“I’m not gonna do this ‘us versus them,’” said Mayor Harris, “I didn’t run for office so that I could divide up our community into different kinds of slices.”
If you are wondering, yes, Shelby County residents still pay the Wheel Tax. Created in 1987 to pay for school construction, the $25 tax was doubled to $50 in 2001 and is currently used to pay for education and debt service.
MATA gets the majority of its funding from the City of Memphis, the State of Tennessee and the Federal Government.
If Mayor Harris’ plan is approved, it’d be the first time county government has funded the bus service.
He hopes the commission will vote by February 2020.