Memphis Bus Riders Union (MBRU) made history this August in what seemed like an impossible feat: pushing the City Council to pass a resolution diverting funding from the Economic Development Growth Engine, a local government board designed to “serve a leading role in administering current economic development incentive programs” to the Memphis Area Transit Authority in order to restore funding MATA lost from Mayor A C Wharton’s FY 2014 budget cuts.
Earlier this summer, MBRU urged the Council to restore the $2.4 million to MATA’s portion of the city budget before it was passed in July. As budget deliberations came to an end, a scant $606,000 was restored. Throughout the budget hearings MBRU organizers warned the administration and the Council that this would not be enough to stop the massive cuts to bus service. Yet again, Memphis foots the bill for a corporate buffet while rationing public services in a so-called budget crisis. Growing public dismay made it apparent that in spite of the odds, more action must be taken.
As MATA prepared to host public hearings on the upcoming route cuts, MBRU kept pushing the City Council to take another look into the budget and find the funding for public transportation. Bus riders increased the pressure with calls and emails to the Council and the Mayor’s office, and mobilized over 200 riders to the public hearings. All these efforts effectively shifted the conversation to focus on the problem of city funding and tax breaks for multi-million dollar corporations while public services are being decimated. As MBRU organizer Bennett Foster stated in a press release by the local Sierra Club “This resolution to amend the budget and restore some funding for MATA has the potential to protect a great deal of service hours, frequency and even entire routes that are proposed to be terminated this summer. Changes planned for the 10 and 43 could create a veritable wall between residents of North and South Memphis and the developing downtown area, not to mention the added hardship for bus riders from all over the city who must transfer downtown to get anywhere out east. The City has an opportunity to take action now before it’s too late. With unemployment at 10.3%, rampant poverty and the Mayor’s perpetual cuts to public services the question is whether the livelihood of poor and working class Memphians is worth taking another look at this budget. We think it is.”
Local media outlets began to focus on the upcoming cuts to bus service. Council members Lee Harris, Janis Fullilove and Wanda Halbert felt they had enough support to bring a resolution to committee that would amend the budget by taking $469,000 from EDGE and putting that money into MATA operations. With so much community support the council passed the resolution with eight votes!
MATA’s Board of Commissioners met the very next day to vote on the proposed cuts to service. With over $1 million in funding won back by MBRU, our supporters and a great deal of public input from dedicated riders, MATA’s new route proposal saved the 11:15 line up, entire routes such as the #6 Northaven, #15 Presidents Island, #5 Central, #82 Germantown Parkway, and #2 Airport. Stated in the board’s meeting agenda “In order to be responsive to the many comments received regarding direct service to the VA Hospital and Memphis Towers… the #2 route would remain as it exists today in the Medical Center area. The #36 Hacks Cross route would also remain…”. The proposal passed unanimously. Sadly, all of this comes at a time when state and federal funding for public transportation is being drastically reduced. North and South Memphis, which already lack adequate bus service, will still suffer from less service than anywhere else.
Memphis Bus Riders Union has plenty of work ahead. But with these seemingly impossible victories under her belt, an affordable, equitable, safe and efficient mass public transit system doesn’t seem so unattainable. Stay tuned as the struggle continues!
Our next monthly meeting is Saturday, September 7th from 12 to 2pm at Memphis Center for Independent Living, 1633 Madison Ave. Please join us!
For more information call (901) 205-9737 or email us at MemphisBRU@gmail.com.