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Why You Should Vote for the Gas Tax Increase

October 28, 2012

Why in the world would anyone vote Yes to a tax increase?

There’s one on the November 6, 2012 ballot in Memphis that is worth your careful consideration.

Here’s why.

Approximately 246,000 Greater Memphians live at or below the Federal poverty line.

The rest of the 1.3 million who call the Memphis area home live above the Federal poverty line.

What do these two groups have in common?

They both need reliable bus transportation.

If you do not own a car, or your health/age prevent you from driving, you depend on Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) to get to job interviews, doctor visits,  stores, and everywhere else you can’t get a friend or relative to drive you.  That can make life very high stress.

It’s tough to land a job without “reliable transportation.”

Theoretically, a bus should do the trick if you can’t afford a car. But public transportation in Memphis is a mess. According to a Brookings Institution study on the connection between jobs and public transit in  America, Memphis has one of the worst U.S public transit systems (ranked 69th  among 100 largest cities).

How bad is it? According to the 2011 Brookings report:

-More than 80% of MATA’s 40,000 weekday riders have no other means of getting to work.

-84% of Memphis area jobs take longer than 90 minutes by bus to reach from a worker’s home; some riders report they couldn’t accept a local job offer because bus routes would consume over four hours each way between home and workplace.

-While the highest concentration of the poor live within the city limits, many jobs, medical facilities, and human resources agencies are in the suburbs. MATA was ranked 98th out of 100 for worker access to suburban jobs.

-Riders also complain about a lack of routes at night and on weekends, which profoundly affects shift workers; undependable schedules; long wait times; and routes that haven’t been changed for decades to reflect changed residential and workplace patterns.

-Angry, desperate riders formed a Memphis Bus Riders Union in February 2012, determined to “raise the level of service and dignity” afforded riders and to hold MATA accountable for its performance and policies.

Watch video for Memphis Bus Drivers Union:

Two other groups depend heavily on public transportation:  the elderly and the disabled.

Memphis “carfree” blogger David Fullerton reports that when mechanized wheelchair lifts are malfunctioning, MATA bus drivers sometimes refuse to deploy them manually.When busses are full, mobility-impaired riders are forced to wait – up to more than an hour – for another bus.

Well, too bad, so sad, you say; but you don’t ride the bus, you’re part of the wheeled and working class, so why should you vote to raise your already staggering tax burden?

Because you are paying for public assistance to many of the 40,000 Greater Memphians who ride MATA buses every weekday.  You are paying for tens of thousands of unemployed who want to work, but need a public transit system that works to get them where they need to go, when they need to get there.

MATA needs a dedicated, stable source of funding to fix its many problems.  The City of Memphis subsidizes MATA through its capital improvement and operating budgets. In 2011, Memphis contributed 44% of MATA’s $50 million budget. This fiscal year, the city cut MATA’s funding by $250,000 at a time when higher gas prices had already increased the agency’s expenses by $300,000. To make ends meet, MATA raised fees and fares for all riders in 2011, including students, seniors and the disabled. It eliminated some routes, reduced frequency of others, and generally made life tougher for people already struggling to make it in Memphis without a car.

The proposed one cent per gallon tax will generate $3-6 million a year for MATA to improve services. If you drive the average 12,000 miles per year, that penny per gallon will cost you around $6.00 total. That’s $6.00 over one  year. 

Imagine a city where unemployment shrinks because low paid workers can get to work on time, and in a reasonable amount of time.  Imagine a city where a great public transportation system is so effective, efficient, and easy to use that people from all walks of life choose it over gas guzzling automobiles.

Isn’t that worth a penny a gallon?

And why couldn’t that happen in the home of FedEx,  where logistical expertise and out of the box thinking literally changed the world?

Vote YES to the  $.01 gas tax increase on November 6th. It’s good for Memphis and will be good for you.

Related articles:

Unemployment Problem Includes Public Transportation that Separates Poor from Jobs

A Tale of Two Cities: Memphis by Bus and Memphis by Car (2010)

Memphis Gas Supporters Rally at MATA

What’s the MATA?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Mary Jane Thompson permalink
    October 30, 2012 9:48 pm

    Wow! Good job.

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