April 28--The Memphis Area Transit Authority will delay deciding whether to eliminate shuttle service for local sporting events like Grizzlies games, University of Memphis basketball games, the Southern Heritage Classic and the Liberty Bowl.
Thomas Fox, MATA's interim general manager, explained the motivation behind the proposal as primarily financial during a board meeting Monday attended by about 100 citizens at MATA's North Memphis headquarters.
He cited more than $86,000 in total losses for running the 78 buses last year.
"With the budget the way it is we're recommending to the board we eliminate the shuttles," Fox said. "We think this is a service that can be provided in other ways."
MATA loses roughly $43,400 a year on service to Grizzlies games, with an average of 59 riders per game; $29,900 on Tigers games with 206 riders per game; $7,534 in service to the Southern Heritage Classic with 441 riders per game; and $5,604 in service to the Liberty Bowl with 584 riders per game.
"I want the public to understand that even if those buses were packed, with every seat occupied, we would still lose money," said board member John Vergos.
MATA is prevented by law from accepting third party funding to run the shuttle services, Fox pointed out. But board member Charles Pickard asked why no one had gone to the Grizzlies with a possible $45,000 advertising package, presumably to help bolster MATA's budget and allow the shuttles to keep running.
"I'm very dismayed they weren't volunteering anything. They were putting all the blame on us and not proposing any solutions," Pickard said, referring to a letter to the board from Grizzlies management disapproving of the talks to end the shuttles.
Similar letters were received from leadership at the University of Memphis and the Southern Heritage Classic, according to Fox. A public petition was also submitted to the MATA board with 358 signatures from people asking it to keep the routes.
Ryan Alpert, director of development for the University of Memphis, stood up during the meeting and told the board the university would be willing to collaborate on alternative ideas.
It was both the strong public sentiment -- as evidenced by the standing-room-only crowd at Monday's meeting -- as well as the board's failure to address other possible solutions to the funding problem that led to the agreement to table the discussion.
Board Chairman Sean Healy said he wanted a decision made by the end of June. "I don't want this to linger out there," he said.
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