Subscribe

City, County explore creating dedicated funding source for MATA

By Updated: October 22, 2018 6:52 AM CT

A newly formed Memphis and Shelby County ad hoc transportation/transit committee has started discussing ways to find a dedicated local funding source for the Memphis Area Transit Authority.

The committee was formed after MATA CEO Gary Rosenfeld presented a transit plan draft to the commission last month that would expand bus services throughout the city – and would require $30 million in additional funding to implement.

Currently, the city of Memphis gives MATA about $27 million from its general fund each year, but that money allocated for MATA could potentially fluctuate in any given fiscal year.

Shelby County government has had no role in funding MATA, but its new mayor, Lee Harris, has said he wants the county to play a leading role in transit, and a revamped Shelby County Commission is open to discussing such an investment.   

Shelby County Commissioner Edmund Ford Jr. was appointed chairman of the ad hoc transit committee. Ford is also a Memphis City Council member who must give up that seat by Dec. 1. The ad hoc committee’s goal is to give recommendations on potential revenue sources to both the council and commission so legislation for funding can be drafted and eventually approved by both bodies.

“When you introduce any type of tax or fee, there will be an immediate reaction,” Ford said. “We just want to make sure people know that the goal is to have the best transit system in the nation, and I think Memphis deserves that. I think that we need to have whatever we need to have in place, so that people can go from point A to point B where there is recreation, vocation or occupation.”

According to MATA’s expanded transit plan, 79,000 more people and 103,000 more jobs would be near frequent transit service, which the plan defines as every 15 minutes. The plan would add 200,000 hours of bus service to create more frequent service routes and evening and weekend services.  


“We just want to make sure people know that the goal is to have the best transit system in the nation, and I think Memphis deserves that. I think that we need to have whatever we need to have in place, so that people can go from point A to point B where there is recreation, vocation or occupation.”
Edmund Ford Jr.



Rosenfeld said he doesn’t need all $30 million at once, however.

“If you were to give me $30 million today, it would take me awhile to spend it,” he said. “Commercial drivers don’t just show up, and buses take a year to buy. Do I want $30 million today, yes. Do I need $30 million today? I could use $10 million today to get us into the next fiscal year, with $20 million to the following year and $30 million the next year, so that we can plan it out and spend it wisely.”

In addition to Ford and Rosenfeld, committee members include county commissioner Tami Sawyer; Suzanne Carlson, transportation and mobility project manager with Innovate Memphis; county public works director Tom Needham; and Justin Davis, leader with the Memphis Bus Riders Union.

At the committee’s first meeting Tuesday, Davis proposed eight possible revenue sources for MATA. Some of those options include a hotel-motel tax; a ride-hailing tax, which would feature a fee on services such as Uber and Lyft; a rental car tax; a sales tax; and a transportation utility fee that has been proposed by Ford.   

Davis said the union would prefer a revenue source that doesn’t burden transit riders, who are already investing in MATA as customers.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has generally favored county government funding of MATA, but has been more cautious on a dedicated revenue stream like a gas tax hike or a transportation utility fee. Strickland has said he wants to see the transit authority build public support for such a revenue source.

More research will be done by the committee on those potential revenue sources prior to its next meeting Oct. 30.   

“I think that at the end of the day, however we do it, the bottom-line goal is for Shelby County government to play in the transit game,” Sawyer said.



Topics

Memphis Area Transit Authority Edmund Ford Jr. Tami Sawyer Shelby County Commission Lee Harris
Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf is the county government reporter for The Daily Memphian. Omer was previously a reporter at The Jackson Sun and is a University of Memphis graduate.


Comment On This Story

Email Editions

Sign up for our morning and afternoon editions, plus breaking news.