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Officials say transforming public transportation in Memphis will cost millions

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis leaders believe part of the answer to moving the city forward is improving transportation. But it's going to cost millions to make that happen, $30 million to be exact.

But that investment is expected to bring more money back home to Memphis if it's executed correctly.

Bus riders in Memphis say moving around the city takes patience. Buses can run behind, but riders can't take the chance of missing them.

Cynthis Bailey is the co-chair of The Bus Riders Union in Memphis. She's depended on public transportation for decades.

"I ride the bus. I've been riding for 28 years. Sometimes it comes every 30 minutes, every hour."

Bailey explains most people won't understand her frustration unless they get on the bus. So we took a ride.

We started in east Memphis. It took us 40 minutes to even get on the bus. The first two buses passed right by before we caught on and headed downtown.

Luckily, we weren't in a rush. But just imagine if we needed to be on time for work.

It took us one hour and 10 minutes to make the trip.

According to MATA CEO Gary Rosenfeld, that's actually pretty good considering the normal ride time takes upward of two hours. He admits improvements need to be made.

"We do the best we can with the resources available to us," he said.

He says based on the current budget, they are left just making due. MATA believes the Memphis 3.0 Comprehensive Plan designed to move Memphis forward could be the game changer the city needs.

Rosenfeld thinks the transit vision will help, but it is going to cost. "Transit vision has a $30 million price tag on it."

The MATA CEO thinks it's worth the dough. "It's important that we offer opportunities for people to earn a paycheck, bring that back to where they live and spend it appropriately."

In turn of growing the economy and connecting all corners of the city, Rosenfeld compares Memphis to cities like Charlotte, Chicago and Philadelphia. They're big cities that spend plenty on public transportation. And it shows.

"Communities that invest heavily in public transportation outperform those that don't."

One of the biggest complaints riders have is having a hard time getting on their connecting buses.

"It might pull off five minutes before the 42. And the people who have to catch the 42, well the 36 is already gone," Bailey said.

The problem then makes people late for work.

The transit vision is expected to minimize frustrations by adding routes, giving people living in neighborhoods with less jobs access to areas with more opportunities.

"Once we have a reasonable commute time to get people from point a to point b, the opportunities are abound," Bailey said.

Currently MATA doesn't get funding from the county, but Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris says that could change.

During his State of the County Address, Harris said he plans to present a plan later in 2019 that would have the county investing in public transit for the first time ever.

He says the city would still have control over MATA, but he did want the county to be represented on the board. Mayor Harris didn't say how much money his proposal would cost, but he said funding would be phased over several years.

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