Tuesday, November 23, 2010

MATA Picks Consultant

Posted By on Tue, Nov 23, 2010 at 9:00 AM

MATA board members approved San Francisco's Nelson\Nygaard Consulting for a $350,000 short-range transit plan yesterday.

The five-year plan is expected to address visioning, routes, scheduling, capital assets, and finances.

"Both supported a simple, more direct routing system," said board member John Vergos. "One thing they were both definite on is that if buses come every 20 or 30 minutes, you will see increased ridership on those routes. ... It gets back to directness, simplicity, and clarity."

"I'm hoping that when we have the new routes, they'll be much easier to understand."

Staff and board members interviewed the two finalists, Nelson\Nygaard and Perteet, Inc. earlier this month. The format included a 30-minute presentation and an hour-long Q&A.

The board also talked about needing an answer line that is easy to understand.

Last week, the Flyer ran a letter to the editor that said it took 36 prompts to find out what time the Poplar bus would arrive at the downtown terminal under MATA's new call system:

"With the old system, you could get the same information by responding to six prompts. With the old line, the time actually spent on the phone to get the information was a third of what is required with the new system," John Manasco wrote.

"We're working as hard and as fast as we can to correct the problem," MATA head William Hudson told the board when questioned. "We're trying to correct it."

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Case of the Missing MATA Board Members

Posted By on Mon, Nov 1, 2010 at 11:19 AM

Officially, MATA has a nine-member board.

But its most recent meeting, on October 25th, was the first time in four years — at least — that even seven commissioners were at the table.

Looking back at data from 2006 to October of this year, the board has never included more than seven commissioners in recent history.

MATA spokesperson Alison Burton says the board changed to from a seven-member board to a nine-member board by city ordinance in August 2000. But in her more than two decade tenure with the transit authority, she says she can't remember a time when it had more than seven board members. (In fact, she says she always writes that it's a seven-member board.)

Of course, it's had fewer than seven members much of the time.

In 2007, board member Dick Walker passed away after the second meeting of the year and was never replaced, leaving the number of commissioners at six.

Vicki Cloud then resigned in 2007.

Both Marion McClendon and Reo Pruitt were appointed in February 2008, but Pruitt resigned two months later. No one was appointed to take his place.

Ray Holt then resigned at the beginning of 2009, and with no one being appointed to take his place, either.

But Cliffie Pugh, whose term ended this September, hadn't attended a meeting since April 2009.

Call it the case of the missing MATA board members (or one of those complicated word problems you see on the math portions of state tests).

With Pugh's long absence and the resignation of Holt, the MATA board dwindled to only four effective members for much of 2009.

Maybe it's a result of "out of sight, out of mind." MATA's headquarters are on Watkins, north of Chelsea, and built on an old landfill. Maybe no one wants to be on the MATA board. But I can't help but wonder if this isn't more evidence of a general negligence coming from city government at the time.

After Memphis mayor A C Wharton was elected, he appointed former City Councilman John Vergos to the board. After interim Mayor Myron Lowery appointed former City Councilman John Vergos, mayor A C Wharton appointed The New Teacher Project staffer Sheila Redick and Memphis Regional Design Center head Chooch Pickard, and there are still two open spots.

MATA's board and staff are scheduled to have a retreat later this week.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Intermodal Change

Posted By on Tue, Oct 26, 2010 at 11:05 AM

MATA's intermodal terminal, currently about 60 percent done and scheduled for completion next May, is already a million dollars over budget, and that figure is climbing.

MATA staff have already processed $959,997 in change orders for the original $9.62 million intermodal project, $750,000 of it stemming from a problem with the building's original design. Procurement policies say that staff can do change orders up to 10 percent of the contract amount.

Because the transit authority estimates an additional $650,000 in costs related to the design problem, the MATA board had to approve changing Zellner Construction Services' contract to reflect a cost of $11.48 million for the facility.

MATA is seeking reimbursement of all the construction-related costs — roughly $1.4 million — through the architect's errors and omissions insurance.

In other news, MATA board members and staff will participate in a retreat early next month. As part of the retreat, they've challenged themselves to ride MATA to the retreat facility.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

More on the AirTran/Southwest Merger

Posted By on Tue, Oct 5, 2010 at 3:45 PM

When Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways announced they would merge last week, local travelers — esp. those somewhat frugal ones — rejoiced.

For years, some of us have been driving to Little Rock to fly Southwest, the nation's largest domestic passenger carrier and often one of the most inexpensive. (Also, their employees seem to like to tell jokes.)

But with the merger, it looks like Memphis International will finally have service on Southwest.

If you're interested in how the merger came to be — it probably won't be finalized until next spring — the AJC has a business story about the deal between code name "Falcon," "Atlanta-focused" AirTran, and "Cowboy," Dallas-based Southwest, as well as an Q&A with AirTran CEO Bob Fornaro.

“When [Southwest CEO] Gary [Kelly] called, first of all, I wasn’t sure what the subject would be,” Fornaro said. “I certainly went with the mindset, ‘Let’s see what Gary has to say. I was really unsure, but... I thought about Southwest relative to AirTran.”

Among other things, he said, he thought about the much-larger Southwest’s “vast resources” to not only pull off a large-scale acquisition but also fuel future growth.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bike/Ped All

Posted By on Fri, Sep 10, 2010 at 8:45 AM

This week I did a Q&A with Kyle Wagenschutz, the new bike/ped coordinator for the city of Memphis and the Memphis area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).

It's a notable step for the city, hiring its first bike/ped coordinator. It shows a commitment to alternative forms of transportation, and in a sprawling city such as Memphis, that's new.


Mayor A C Wharton said Wagenschutz would be working for the entire community "from the core city to the suburbs and all points in between."

"Having a bicycle/pedestrian coordinator on staff brings Memphis closer to the forefront of livability and sustainability programming," Wharton said. "Making our community more walkable and bikable will inherently make us all safer and healthier by encouraging exercise, responsible street-sharing among motorists, and reducing carbon emissions."

Also, I just really love this picture of Wagenschutz.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Zipped Up

Posted By on Thu, Aug 19, 2010 at 3:52 PM

Car-sharing is going to college.

Rhodes College just announced car-sharing service Zipcar will be on campus this fall.

For $35 a year, members can rent a Zipcar by the hour or the day, with $35 in free driving their first month of membership. Reservations are made on the internet or by cellphone, and in-car technology unlocks the car doors and reports the car's location.


"We looked at it a few years ago when it was a fledgling operation, but at that time, users had to be 21 years old," said Tracy Adkisson, the associate director of physical plant. "It wasn't ideal then. Now they've changed the program to accommodate college and universities so that people 18 to 21 can join."

The school hopes the service might help, in part, with parking issues on campus.

"It is an excellent way to conserve parking spaces and provides an alternative to those not requiring daily transportation," John Blaisdell, Rhodes' associate dean of students, said in a statement. "I believe the ease of use should make the program a success."

Adkisson also cites sustainability and student service as reasons to have Zipcar on campus.

"One of the main reasons is to give students who don't bring a car to campus a viable alternative and to give students an alternative to bringing a car to campus," she said.

Rhodes is the third location in Tennessee for Zipcars. The others are Belmont and Vanderbilt universities in Nashville.

The school's two Zipcars — one a hybrid — are scheduled to arrive Tuesday and will soon be available for pickup in the Briggs Student Center parking lot. For more info, click here.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Road to Foreclosures

Posted By on Wed, Jul 21, 2010 at 12:05 PM

Or "How Transportation Costs Affect Foreclosure Rates."

I've referenced Chicago's Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) here before. I think I may have even posted some maps of their Housing + Transportation Affordability Index.

Under the conventional formula, affordable housing is 30 percent of median income. CNT says the true costs of housing should include transportation costs, and they defined an affordable range as consuming no more than 48 percent of median income.

More recently, they looked at weekly and monthly trends in foreclosure filings and compared them with the weekly change in gas prices from 2000 to 2010.

"We found that whenever gas prices spiked, foreclosures typically followed within six to nine months," CNT president Scott Bernstein testified at the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary subcommittee meeting in Memphis Monday.

CNT found that, in Memphis, the average cost of housing is about 27 percent of household income, but, combined with transportation, comes to 52 percent of are area median household income.

For households earning 80 percent of median income, the costs rose to 33 percent for housing and 63 percent for housing plus transportation.

"If we don't take gas prices into account, the next time energy costs spike, we're likely to run into this again," Bernstein said.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Tunica Transit

Posted By on Fri, Jul 16, 2010 at 9:39 AM

Planners for the Mississippi Department of Transportation are exploring whether a high speed bus from Tunica to Downtown Memphis is feasible.

"This is something that's been talked about as early as 1996," said John Houghton, senior planner with Gresham Smith and Partners. "Including east/west routes, we estimate it would have about 1,700 riders a day."

Potential users are tourists traveling from downtown Memphis to Tunica, as well as people who fly in or out of Memphis International, and Tunica casino workers.

Houghton also cited DeSoto County's rapid population growth. From 1990 to 2010, the county gained 100,000 residents.

Planners considered light rail, commuter rail, and high speed bus service but, with signal prioritization, the buses are similar to trains but at a fraction of the cost.

Continue reading »

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bike Action at City Hall Tomorrow/City Pledges 55 Miles of Bike Lanes and Facilities

Posted By on Thu, Jul 15, 2010 at 2:55 PM

After all the uncertainty over the city's bikes lanes — they were going to create more when they repaved; then they weren't; now they are again — and the controversy that created, local bicycle advocates are asking Memphis mayor A C Wharton and the City Council to ensure that all future paving projects using federal dollars include bicycle facilities.

Off topic: I like this girls shoes.
  • Off topic: I like this girl's shoes.
Last month, more than 30 miles of federally funded bicycles lanes were excluded from the city's repaving plans.

In response to a public outcry, the city has decided install 55 miles of new bike lanes and facilities, much of it funded through the city engineer's budget.

Bicycle advocates, who plan to meet at City Hall Friday, July 16th, at 12:30 p.m., initially wanted Wharton to send plans for the 30 miles back to the city engineer's office and include the lanes.

"While the Shelby Farms Greenline, the Wolf River Greenway, and bike lanes on Shady Grove show some movement in the area of Green infrastructure in Memphis, our city remains ashamedly behind the curve in promoting human powered transportation options," says a letter addressed to Wharton and the council.

"Investing in such infrastructure is not merely an appeasement to cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts; it is an investment in our community and the public realm. Investing in infrastructure that promotes biking and walking has been shown to stimulate new business, attract talented workers, lower public health costs, stimulate tourism, increase property values, and raise tax revenues. In short, Memphis stands to gain an overall quality of life increase by investing in infrastructure that enables more bicycling and walking."

Continue reading »

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Location, Location, Location

Posted By on Tue, Jul 13, 2010 at 2:09 PM

The Wall Street Journal has a story today on how walkability is an amenity that more homebuyers are looking for.

(It even namechecks a CEOs for Cities study of 90,000 homes in which amenities within walking distance of neighborhoods were shown to boost home values.)

"For a lot of Americans, the whole problem of traffic congestion and having to drive everywhere to do almost anything has made other choices more attractive," says Kaid Benfield, director of the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council's Smart Growth Program. Urban planners say it's also a matter of demographics: Baby boomers are coming of empty-nest retirement age, and at the same time their children are buying their first homes, and neither group wants large lots in remote places where little is going on. Fear about future oil prices is also increasing the attractiveness of walkable neighborhoods.

Another study released in January by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that the measure of transportation costs in a given area affect the number of foreclosures.

With Walk Score, which the article references, a potential homebuyer can easily find how a place rates re: walkability.

The site acknowledges its limitations: It doesn't take sidewalks, street design, topography, or traffic into account. And after playing with it a little bit, it's clear there are some deficiencies (nearby movie theaters cited the Orpheum, which does show movies, but ...) but an interesting tool nonetheless.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Road Share: Tips for Drivers and Cyclists

Posted By on Mon, Jun 28, 2010 at 10:29 AM

Sometimes I hear complaints that Memphis drivers don't know how to share the road with cyclists.

Or maybe it's more of a don't want to share the road with cyclists. (When you hear about things being thrown at people on bicycles, that doesn't seem like something you should have to teach people not to do.)

But for my purposes, I'm going to assume that it's a knowledge issue, which I'm sure it is for a majority of the driving population.

A friend of mine posted "How to Drive Around Cyclists" from Bicycling magazine on Facebook recently and, though I'm not completely sure when it was written, it still seems like a good primer.

Drivers and cyclists: If there's even been an oil-and-water combination, this is it. We both use roads; we'd both prefer to do so without the other in the way. But the juxtaposition puts cyclists in far greater peril than drivers. For that reason, nearly every rider would like nonpedaling motorists to know how vulnerable they are. And, yes, riders also need to take responsibility for their own safety, but a few simple tips for drivers will make the roads safer for everyone.

Most of it seems to boil down to drivers should give bicycles a 3 ft. berth, go slow, and pay particular attention at intersections. The piece also gives riders tips to be safer around crazy drivers. And everybody knows we have a few of those around here.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Fast Tracked

Posted By on Wed, Jun 2, 2010 at 4:09 PM

When Leadership Memphis began its first season of FastTrack, a two-month program aimed at emerging leaders in 2008 — the same year the organization turned 30 — I wrote about it.

"It is targeted to a younger and more up-and-coming leadership group," Leadership Memphis president David Williams said of FastTrack. "The executive program is targeted at proven leaders, those people already in senior leadership positions."

"For the last four years, with our executive program, we've been talking about the importance of recruiting and retaining talent in Memphis," Williams says. "We said let's see what we can do, and voila."

Earlier this year — full disclosure — I went through the program myself.

Now, I don't see how Leadership Memphis could find a better group of talented, wonderful, socially conscious, community-oriented, and fun individuals than they had in the FastTrack program this past spring, but they seem bound and determined to do so.

From now until June 30th, Leadership Memphis is taking nominations for the FastTrack 2010 Fall program, which begins in August and ends in November.

During the program, participants will learn about leadership skills and about Memphis. There are even field trips! (Just like in grade school, but without the boxed lunch or the bus driver.)

For more information about the program, visit or call Leadership Memphis at 901.278.0016. To nominate someone (including yourself), send name and contact information to:

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tough Luck Transit

Posted By on Tue, Jun 1, 2010 at 1:41 PM

A few days ago, I wrote about MATA and its Dump the Pump day initiatives.

Obviously, service that is affordable and efficient would be a great boon to the city and its citizens ... and something that would be even more helpful in getting people to "dump the pump."

But MATA needs to be careful because the opposite is also true. Discounting a pass is a great incentive to get people to try to use public transportation. Now the question is: What kind of experience are they going to have when they do so?

The day/week will only be successful long-term if potential riders find a system that meets their needs.

I’m not saying it won’t. I hope it will.

But, based on what I saw at the last board meeting, I have serious doubts about how customer-service oriented MATA truly is.

(Full disclosure: I've gone back and forth about writing about this. MATA is an easy target, almost too easy of a target. I think most of the people in the city are aware of MATA’s failings with the exception, perhaps, of MATA itself. So, really, what's the point?)

Continue reading »

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

MATA's Dump the Pump Discount

Posted By on Tue, May 25, 2010 at 8:30 AM

As part of this year's Dump the Pump day, MATA will be offering 7-day passes for $10 from June 14th to 18th. The new unlimited-ride weekly FastPass, started as part of MATA's elimination of its problematic transfer system, usually costs $15.

For persons who are seniors or have disabilities, the weekly pass will cost only $5 during the Dump the Pump celebration.

National Dump the Pump Day encourages people to ride public transportation to save money, protect the environment, and reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil.


"The whole point of the FastPass is to encourage people to ride MATA more," said MATA spokesperson Alison Burton.

As part of its monthly meeting yesterday, MATA board members also approved a $77,000 route scheduling software package from Trapeze. Using current data, the "Blockbuster" software will create the best route scenario, and allows automation of cutting runs and testing alternative scenarios.

"We're doing that manually now," said MATA president William Hudson.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bike Path

Posted By on Fri, May 21, 2010 at 11:21 AM

Marvin Stockwell started riding his bike to work about six weeks ago.

"That was after a year of thinking about it," he said. "I would see my buddy [bicycle advocate] Anthony Siracusa ride his bike everywhere."

It was just in time to get the jump on National Bike-to-Work Week. Today's Bike-to-Work Day dawned sort of cloudy and overcast, perfect weather for a group of seasoned and inexperienced riders to bike downtown, where the Center City Commission had "energizer stations" on North Main, South Main, and in the Medical Center District.

Energizing at Central Station
  • Energizing at Central Station

Dawn Vinson is the project manager for Downtown Bike to Work Week. The Hickory Hill resident often rides her bike to do casual errands.

"We were sitting around one day and we thought, how can we get more people to ride their bikes?" she said. "How could we make it safe and fun?"

In addition to the energizer stations, the CCC organized group rides into downtown, as well as practice rides in the days leading up to Bike to Work Day.

"It can be stressful to ride with traffic if you're not confident in your skills. I prefer neighborhood streets with lower speeds. I'm must not ready to ride down Poplar Avenue," Vinson said. "We organized the meet-ups for those not confident in their riding skills or who don't want to do it by themselves or don't know how to choose a route."

Continue reading »

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