Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris is unveiling a proposal for an investment in MATA

Local News

MEMPHIS, Tenn. ( – Monday Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said to commissioners in a letter that he has a recommendation for how the county might invest in the public transit system.

For years, Memphis Area Transit Authority has been argued to be largely ineffective. Riders have complained about the lack of bus routes and long commutes to where they need to go.

While Mayor Harris has not released any details of the proposal, there might be a glimpse of it on Wednesday’s agenda for the County Commission’s meeting. A resolution on the agenda is asking for a partnership between the City of Memphis and MATA and a request for $14.3 million in federal funding for construction of a “Memphis Innovation Corridor.” 

The project outlines “a high capacity 8-mile Bus Rapid Transit line with 10-minute headways during peak periods with dedicated lanes on two miles of roadway through Downtown Memphis to which the project would entail the construction of 28 new transit stations, the purchase of nine new 40-foot long all-electric BRT vehicles, and the purchase of electric charging equipment.”

The Memphis Innovation Corridor will include locations such as the Memphis Medical District, the University of Memphis along Second Street, B.B. King Boulevard, Union Avenue, and Poplar Avenue.

Ayanna Watkins of Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope said she hopes the Mayor’s plan will be inclusive for the entire metro area. The lack of reliable public transportation in the area has hurt under-served communities. 

“In order for people to do well here and for people to live and raise their families and own their homes and do the things that they need to do, they need to be able to get from point A to point B,” Watkins said.

She said transportation is needed in an area like Memphis so people can efficiently get to work or the grocery store without the need of a car. Equity is a top value for her organization, and reliable transportation plays a large part in that. 

“We want people to be able to experience this city and to thrive here as residents and public transportation is absolutely necessary for that,” Watkins said.

Commissioner Van Turner said with the rate that the metro area is growing, the need for more reliable transportation is vital. He said the young workforce needs public transit. Also, families and tourists could benefit from it.

“When you talk about how the mayor has really pushed $15 an hour for wages, when you talk about bringing businesses into the city and the county, and when you talk about preparing our young people to become tax paying citizens of the county and the city, we have to provide adequate means of transportation,” Turner said.

In Mayor Harris’ letter to the commissioners, he said, “MATA has nearly 7 million rides per year and demand for millions more…If we can increase revenue to public transit, we can change the lives of many, many of these families.” 

Neither MATA nor the Mayor has said exactly what is in the proposal, but they will be unveiling it Wednesday.

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