In response to The Memphis Flyer cover story: "Bus Stopped: The Battle over Route 31" published on December 1st, there is one key point we all can agree on: Memphis needs and deserves a reliable and efficient transportation system.
As chief executive officer of Memphis Area Transit Authority, it is my mission to be able to deliver this.
But public transportation requires a healthy investment. We all recognize that when public transportation is properly funded, it yields the results the community desires, including access to work, school, recreational activities, the doctor's office, worship, and to visit family and friends. It also delivers a healthy boost to economic development throughout the community.
Since my arrival in Memphis two years ago, I have been emphasizing this point to our elected officials, community leaders, customers, general public, the news media, and anyone who will listen.
I understand the frustration many feel over the decision several years ago to eliminate the 31 Crosstown. For those who may not be familiar with the history behind the 31 Crosstown, when the decision was made to eliminate Route 31 in 2013 and provide other routes that served the same communities, there was quite a bit of ongoing dialogue even well after the decision was made. Many meetings — including those hosted by MATA and even one-on-one discussions — were held with members of the Memphis City Council and community groups.
When the dialogue about Route 31 resurfaced this summer along with the recent petition drive, I wrote a guest column that was published in the September 25th issue of The Commercial Appeal about the 31 Crosstown to explain the decision again. (Although I was not contacted by the Flyer reporter to comment specifically for the "Bus Stopped: The Battle over Route 31" article, I am glad Ms. Watts included parts of my views that were previously published in the CA.)
The lack of a dedicated source of funding, however, has caused the unfortunate result of trimming service and creating alternative solutions, as we did with Route 31. But we understand our alternative solutions may work for some residents, but not for all.
I deeply respect Georgia "Mother" King and her passion and dedication over this issue, along with the other citizens who have signed the petition, but the main obstacle to restoring Route 31 Crosstown is a matter of dollars and cents.
MATA is underfunded by more than $20 million annually compared to Memphis' peer transit cities like Louisville.
If this group could help us convey to all of our elected officials that MATA needs a consistent source of funding to help restore public transportation to the level that we need and deserve in the Memphis area, I welcome their assistance.
Right now, it is imperative that we drive the conversation around that single important issue: discovering more funding. After all, public transportation in a city the size of Memphis is an absolute necessity for economic viability, opportunity, and sustainability.
Ron Garrison is the CEO of Memphis Area Transit Authority.