For the first time in Shelby County’s history, the County Commission will contribute yearly funding to public transit.

During the Feb.10 commission meeting, an ordinance was passed on the final reading that dedicated 1.5 percent of the Shelby County capital budget to Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) yearly. The commission’s action is expected to generate “at least $1 million of the CIP budget to transit every year,” according to the county’s website.

The ordinance was approved 10-2 with Commissioners David Bradford and Amber Mills voting against it. The decision comes on the heels of extensive conversation surrounding public transit in Shelby County, including Mayor Lee Harris’ push for additional transit funding and the creation of an ad-hoc committee to explore options for additional funding sources.

“The plan approved by the commission was the first of our two-part plan to make a significant, yearly investment in transit,” Harris said about his $10-million-dollar proposal. “This was a great step forward and this part of our plan, should be noted, does not include any tax or fee whatsoever.”

Harris’ proposal to generate transit funding included a $145 “sustainability fee” for every vehicle past the second registered to a household or business. His plan was greeted with skepticism from some commissioners, who said they were hesitant to support the proposed fee.

Harris has noted that a dedicated investment of at least $10 million has an economic impact of more than $40 million as a result of expanded job access and reduced car crashes in Shelby County. 

“There are 15,000 available jobs in Shelby County. More frequency helps people get a job and keep a job,” Harris said.

Commissioner Edmund Ford Jr., who voted for the county ordinance, Monday said he will not vote for any further funding for the MATA. Some commissioners, however, and MATA officials said more funding is needed to improve the infrastructure and obtain more buses.

The creation of the ad-hoc committee is meant to explore options to obtain additional funding.

The committee, led by Commissioners Tami Sawyer and Mick Wright, held the first of its public meetings Feb. 4, attracting dozens of community residents, transit advocates and MATA representatives.

“We are pleased to see the Shelby County Commission take such an important step in the better of public transit in our community,” MATA Chief Executive Officer Gary Rosenfeld said.

He added that public transportation benefits all residents, even those who don’t use MATA.

“An investment in public transportation means less traffic and improved air quality, and means less traffic and improved air quality for our residents. This will result in reduced commute times and reduced wear and tear on our roads.”

Commissioner Van Turner Jr. emphasized the importance of the county’s approval of allocated funding to transit.

“This is a win for Mayor Harris, the Board of Commissioners, the citizens, and the bus riders in the community. Safe, affordable, reliable, and economically friendly public transportation is the backbone for any thriving and progressive metropolitan community. This ordinance represents one meaningful step in making this a reality.”

The transit conversation will continue as the ad-hoc committee moves forward exploring options for more funding sources. The next meeting will be held Feb. 18, at 5:30 p.m. at the Hollywood Community Center at 1560 North Hollywood.