Shelby County mayor tweaks MATA vehicle fee proposal

Shelby County mayor tweaks MATA vehicle fee proposal

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris is tweaking his plan to increase funding for MATA.

Harris introduced a plan in September that he said would provide MATA an additional $9 million through a sustainability fee.

Harris initially proposed taxing households $145 for every vehicle they owned after their second vehicle.

After public feedback, including criticism, he changed that.

Under his new plan, only a household's third vehicle would be taxed.

Harris said it would not matter how many additional vehicles are registered to an address, the total fee would be $145.

If a household has fewer than three vehicles, the fee will not apply.

Harris said motorcycles, trailers and RV's would also be exempt from the fee.

"You've got to be honest when you receive feedback and incorporate it when people come up with good ideas," said Harris.

Harris has spent the last month in town hall meetings with neighborhood, civic and business groups.

He said increasing funding to MATA is essential.

"Twenty thousand folks take public transit every day. They are mostly without a car, mostly lower income and mostly minority," said Harris. "We can do a better job to improve transit so they can get better access to work."

MATA said it needs an additional $30 million a year to be considered fully funded.

As outlined in the Memphis 3.0 plan, the additional money would be used to provide new and redesigned bus routes, more frequent service and less waiting times.

A new report from the American Public Transportation Association shows MATA bus ridership declining.

According to the report, MATA bus ridership fell 3.53-percent in the second quarter of this year. Ridership was down 6.87 percent compared to the same period the year before.

Harris' plan must maneuver around possible roadblocks in the Shelby County Commission.

Some commissioners aren't sold on a new fee and neither are their constituents.

Commissioner Michael Whaley says county leaders need to do a better job explaining how the fee would benefit everyone, not just MATA riders.

"I'm glad we're having the conversation. I think it'd be very easy to just not even talk about it," said Whaley.

Whaley, whose district covers east Memphis and Cordova, hosted Harris at a town hall a couple of weeks ago.

Harris said he hopes commissioners are ready to vote on his plan in February.

"There is no doubt about it that this is the path where we try as best, we can to turn attention to the population that needs support to get access to jobs," Harris said. "I believe when people reflect where we have been as a community, and the kinds of issues that have festered for a very long time, I think they will agree that, that is where we should devote our attention."

Whaley said there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered, including ensuring that funding will be sustainable.

He said some cities that have increased funding in their public transportation systems have seen fewer passengers, while others have seen an increase.

"Any decision on transit from the county level needs to be really thought through and not rushed at all, because this is a really big decision that is going to impact us for generations to come," said Whaley. "A lot of my constituents drive cars to where they go and if this is something that the county's going to do, we've got to make sure that we're explaining the benefit to them, to their neighbors and to our communities."

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