Transportation fee could fund public transit, road improvements

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — City and county officials are looking at a whole new way to fund public transportation in the city, and it could save you taxes in the long run.

City Councilman Edmund Ford, Jr. proposed the new fee, which would appear with utility bills. It’s still unclear exactly who would pay it and how much it would be, but Ford's estimates were as low as $3 a month.

Ford said it would free up about $26 million in the city's budget while providing a guaranteed funding stream for MATA.

“We could lower the tax rate," Ford said. "We could also give rebates to those of lower socioeconomic status or possibly to a business that could get credits doing particular things.”

With more than 15,000 open jobs in Memphis, Ford said improving MATA is the key to connecting people to these jobs and getting them out of poverty.

He said the transportation fee could also pay for road improvements, like fixing potholes.

Pearl Black says she uses public buses when she has an issue with her car. It’s a good experience, but she says MATA has changed a lot in the years since she regularly rode it to get to classes at Memphis State.

“Some of the old bus routes I used to use are somewhat consolidated,” Black said.

MATA's CEO Gary Rosenfeld said the agency would like to add more routes and the frequency of service. They could do it, with help from the new proposal.

“We have service at some places in the community that’s every two hours or two and a half hours. That would bring all services at a frequency of an hour or less," Rosenfeld said.

Ford will soon become a Shelby County commissioner as he finishes his tenure as a city council member. He says he’s already put this on the agenda for his first meeting with the county next week.