Major cities really need a good and reliable public transportation system. We don’t have such a system in Memphis.
An effective system brings commerce to the masses and takes workers to where they need to be. A good public transportation system moves tourists and locals with ease and a degree of comfort that makes riders want to use the service on a consistent basis. This potentially saves fuel, helps the Ozone layer and provides a valuable community resource. The federal government provides millions of dollars in funding and infrastructure support to cities because it’s in the best interest of the nation to have effective transportation.
That’s why it’s so amazing that a major transportation hub such as Memphis can’t seem to create a useful system that helps and serves its most vulnerable citizens, those who require public transportation for work and family needs. Ridership would increase by 50 percent within a year or two, if the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) were really in touch with the citizens, and if they even pretended to care about the bus-riding segment of our community.
Our reality is that Memphis does not have, cannot afford and has no interest in building a subway or light rail system like the ones in New York or D.C. Even a direct-rail, aboveground system from downtown to the airport would take us to the next level, but that’s a very expensive proposition.
We have pinned our hopes on a Downtown Trolley that may or may not work. Even if the trolley is great, what does that actually mean for everyday citizens who need quick, efficient, safe, reliable public transportation? Most citizens – residents – won’t ride the trolley 10 times in their entire lives.
So, here is the question: “Is MATA responsive and concerned about the citizens who need daily public transportation in their own city?”
Our major commercial and employment centers in Shelby County are scattered throughout a very large geographic area, and 80 percent of its regular riders are poor and black. Among them are single mothers, fathers and grandparents who have to get to work or to the grocery store and who deserve a truly responsive public transportation agency.
Harvard University and U.C. Berkley issued a major report two years ago calling Memphis “the most economically segregated major city in America.” That was based largely on a public transportation system that simply had no interest in transporting potential employees to the “East Side” of the county for decent jobs.
The service is poor, most MATA employees are demoralized and poor citizens have a limited voice in demanding realistic change. You probably can’t name even one MATA board member; and neither can the poor residents of Memphis who rely on good decisions about public transportation.
It can take two hours or more, depending on the day and time, for a rider to take a bus from Jackson Ave. downtown to Austin Peay in Raleigh, and it’s the same street. Using MATA to go from Westwood to Wolfchase for work is both grueling and inefficient for the local riders, and could be a nearly half-day process. What about Millington to Hickory Hill? Same thing.
The majority of new job opportunities are East, not North and South, and MATA hasn’t figured that out yet…or maybe they have.
And has anyone at MATA even considered allowing outstanding teen workers to ride a MATA bus for free… to get to work, or back home, even if only as an incentive for students going the extra mile? If not, they should!
Up to now, poor residents, student-workers, the elderly and other car-less families simply don’t seem to matter to MATA in the scheme of things. And to those same disaffected bus riders, “MATA don’t matter.”
This picture can – and must be – changed! And it matters whether it is sooner rather than later.
(Tony Nichelson is the creator of “Man of the House” Mentoring. Visit www.memblink.com/manofthehouse.)