City, MPO hatch plan to keep MATA buses rolling in West Memphis

Consolidated routes, new funding major component of proposal

By John Rech news@theeveningtimes.com

While current Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) funding for the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) to run bus routes through West Memphis at no cost to riders runs out at the end of the year, changes have been proposed to keep most of the bus routes open. West Memphis City Planning director Paul Luker has offered a proposal to MATA that includes new funding sources from the city, along with a revised schedule. Fewer buses would be running in the city during weekdays. The schedule changes would impact about 28,000 riders each month, including some Academies of West Memphis students that use the MATA buses to get to school. “We’ve been struggling with how to keep the service running since the JARC funds are no longer available,” Luker told the West Memphis Metropolitan Planing Organization’s Technical Committee during an Nov. 5 meeting, with many voicing their support for keeping the bus lines rolling in the city. Under the proposed plan, West Memphis offered MATA $100,000 from Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program (CMAQ) funding that would go towards purchasing a new bus every five years. The West Memphis School District would also kick in, with a $50,000 annual commitment. In addition, MATA itself would reduce the hourly rate it charges the city. With all of those factors considered, route consolidation would still be part of the plan in order to continue free bus service around the city. “Right now, we have two circulator routes that run through the town,” said Luker. “They will still run in peak times, but we will go to one bus in the middle of the day to save some money.” Under Luker’s proposal, MATA would eliminate some of the hourly charges to the city for the blazer route and transit route while they are actually in Memphis. Reduced routes and charges, along with new funding from the schools and a redirected use of the CMAQ program to buy clean energy buses, cinch up the new package. The city awaits a final determination from CMAQ administrators. “All in all, MATA gave us a savings of $80,000,” said Luker. “We had a $325,000 gap to make up and we’ve gotten there — provided we get through CMAQ.” West Memphis bus ridership has more than doubled from 152,000 in 2006 to an anticipated 336,000 riders expected in 2015.

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