MATA Public Hearings Bring Attention To Priority Crises
Memphis Area Transit Authority has historically been able to accommodate the trend of eastwardly moving jobs for its riders, 90% of whom are people of color, a majority, women who earn below poverty level income. MATA’s most populated and often overcrowded route is the 50 Poplar which acts as a pipeline for transporting workers from the North End Terminal downtown to jobs in East Memphis. However, most of these riders are not from neighborhoods around the North End Terminal. They travel inbound from distant neighborhoods some tens of miles away. The buses that get them to the North End Terminal are lifelines for these riders. Due to recent cuts in local and federal funding, MATA will be reducing these routes drastically.
This July MATA hosted two public hearings in one week for residents to comment on proposed cuts to bus service. Each hearing drew over 150 people and many went on the record giving their own proposals and concerns about our shrinking bus system. Memphis Bus Riders Union did weeks of canvassing to make sure that as many people as possible could plan to attend this opportunity to speak face-to-face with MATA officials. But MBRU organizers had no illusions that these public hearings would address the real problem of budget cuts. “We’ve got people in low income communities who are already under served, who are going to be cut off from their jobs, cut off from their grocery stores, cut off from city services these are people who already are down in society,” explained Shahin Samiei, Memphis Bus Riders Union. “City council has been cutting MATA’s budget for years now and this is the problem, this is the outcome,” added Samiei.
In response to a great deal of coverage from the local news outlets, some council members made statements of their own. Councilman Harold Collins and TN State Rep. Joe Towns addressed the public with promises to prioritize public transportation in the future. “Maybe we stay with the commitments we have now, but going forward I think it should be an adjustment made on the PILOTs and the length of them and the amount of percentages the City of Memphis relieves,” said Memphis City Councilman Harold Collins about MBRU’s proposals that funding for public transportation could be found in the millions of dollars Memphis gives away in tax incentives to corporations like International Paper and Electrolux. Councilman Lee Harris, who’s district continues to suffer from lack of bus service said in an interview that the City Council needs to “form a separate transportation committee just to make sure we didn’t get into a bind like this one where we’re shocked and surprised that there’s going to be such dramatic cuts that are going to effect hundreds and hundreds of families, not to mention, the 40 or 50 folks at MATA that are going to be laid off as a result of this.”
Memphis Bus Riders Union is urging the public to attend the MATA board meeting Wednesday, August 7th at 3:30 pm at the Central Station, 545 S. Main at the corner of GE Patterson. MATA’s board of commissioners will be voting on the proposed changes. We hope the board will consider postponing the vote as we push Mayor AC Wharton and the City Council to release enough funding to restore MATA’s budget and stop the cuts.