Memphis public transit is underfunded compared with peer cities, research shows

Declining financial support of the Memphis Area Transit Authority and a 40-year trend of development sprawling away from the city core has created a challenge for public transportation in Memphis.

To galvanize support for an alternate solution, Innovate Memphis released a white paper titled “Transit Funding: Memphis Deserves Great Transit,” that the organization hopes will build demand to increase Memphis area transit with funding that will stabilize and expand transit service.

It outlines MATA’s existing funding and a plan to expand Memphis’ public transportation infrastructure with a fare card system, more buses and bus stops as well as additional capital funds.

Innovate Memphis and several partners including Livable Memphis and the Greater Memphis Chamber as well as members of the business community convened the Transit Funding Working Group in late 2015 to identify additional sources of dedicated public funding.
The group’s goal is to increase transportation options and mobility with specific focus on improving reliable transit to jobs.  They seek to increase funding for MATA by $30 million annually.
“Improving and reimagining transit is one of the key decisions for Memphis’ future to increase the prosperity and health of its residents, as well as create a successful, livable Memphis,” said Suzanne Carlson, transportation and mobility project manager for Innovate Memphis.

“We can’t get there without funding public transit.”
According to Innovate Memphis’ research, Memphis is dramatically underfunded in comparison to Nashville, Louisville, Ky. and Charlotte, N.C.
MATA has no dedicated funding source and year and relies on elected officials and grant makers for funding which leaves its financial situation precarious from year. It has faced declining support, service cuts and maintenance issues in recent years.
Innovate Memphis reports that MATA operates on $84 per capita a year, whereas peer cities spend as much as $145.
The result, the paper stipulates, is that Memphis has created a dependence on cars. A small amount of Memphians, only 2.2 percent, take public transit to work compared to 7.1 percent for the largest 100 U.S. metropolitan areas. Memphis ranks 41 of 42 among large urban areas for transit use per capita.
According to MATA’s chief communications officer Nicole Lacey, MATA has the opportunity to be equal to, or better, than our peer cities, but says it starts with a unified effort from the community to support its growth.
“At MATA, one of our major goals for 2017 is to consistently and diligently show the public and our customers that we are committed to positive transformation,” Lacey said. “From Frayser to FedEx, from South Main to South Parkway and throughout many other neighborhoods in-between, MATA is committed to being there for every Memphian.
The white paper as well as a public survey to help provide insight into how people use public transit and other transit options in Memphis and Shelby County is available at

Read more articles by J. Dylan Sandifer.

J. Dylan Sandifer is a freelance writer living in Memphis since 2008. They have also contributed writing and research for MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, VICE News, and Choose901. 

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