National initiative by community leaders kicks off to provide safer transit for preschoolers

Oct. 20, 2023
MATA has launched a national initiative to make bus services more accessible for pre-school families in partnership with the National Head Start Association.

In an effort to ensure families of infants and children have greater access to public transit, a partnership bloomed between a host of national civic, social and public services organizations.

The National Head Start Association (NHSA) and the Civic Mapping Initiative (CMI), powered by the Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation, partnered to produce an interactive, national map and analysis measuring the distance between each Head Start location and the nearest fixed-route transit stop. Only 42 percent of Head Start programs have a transit stop accessible to preschoolers and families within walking distance (0.2 miles). CMI found an additional 19 percent of locations do have a stop within one mile, offering transit agencies across the country low-cost opportunities to support participating families and the critical early childhood workforce. 

“We shouldn’t make it hard for families with young children to access one of America’s most successful anti-poverty programs. Through low-cost changes – like bringing bus stops within walking distance of Head Start Centers -- transit agencies across the country will be supporting both families and the critical early childhood workforce,” said Abigail Seldin, CMI co-founder. “We’re excited to be kicking off this series of new and relocated bus stops with our trusted partners here in Memphis.”

Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) has taken charge nationally to relocate bus stops near three Head Start centers in its service area.   

“We’re thrilled to be a part of this innovative initiative that affects the next generation and directly benefits our families and children in Memphis,” says Gary Rosenfeld, MATA CEO. “This collaboration shows public transit has the power to elevate the lives of infants, toddlers and children of all ages.”

“New tools to overlay transit route data with Head Start center location data helps underscore the need for vital mobility options in communities,” says Arthur L. Guzzetti, vice president of policy and mobility, American Public Transportation Association (APTA). “APTA applauds the connections made possible through the Civic Mapping Initiative and commends the leadership of the Memphis Area Transit Authority.”

A ribbon-cutting will be held at the Early Head Start on Southwest Tennessee Community College - Macon campus Oct. 23 to formally introduce the relocated bus stop to the public. To boost awareness, a wrapped bus from MATA’s fleet featuring artwork from local Head Start students will operate throughout the service area. More public transit providers are expected to perform the necessary analysis to relocate bus stops across the country moving forward.

“One of Head Start’s core values is fostering a relationship with the larger community. The National Head Start Association, Memphis Area Transit Authority, Porter-Leath and Memphis-Shelby County Schools are collaborating to serve as Head Start’s larger community. Shorter commutes reduce barriers to accessing Head Start services, benefiting both the children and staff members involved. The additional bus stops also have the potential to boost attendance by keeping children enrolled, which directly impacts educational advancement. While staffing is a concern for all employers, closer bus stops can help recruit and retain staff. I am excited about how this affects the Memphis community and the potential it has to affect other communities in Tennessee," said President of the Tennessee Head Start Association and Early Head Start Director at Porter-Leath Sheronda Smith.  

“The collaboration with and support of MATA in ensuring that parents of young children have access to stops that are within 500 - 1,000 feet of a Head Start center is an absolute win for everyone. These enhancements for parents improve the system for all riders, including staff. The entire community will benefit from the additional stops,” said Dr. Detris Crane, director of Head Start, Memphis-Shelby County Schools. “It has been an honor to collaborate with MATA, Porter-Leath, National Head Start Association and the Civic Mapping Initiative.”

“We are grateful for the partnership with Civic Mapping Initiative and Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA). MATA is helping us cultivate young minds by providing greater access to safer transportation for our families in our Memphis-based centers,” said Yasmina Vinci, National Head Start Association executive director. “By relocating these stops, our young students have fewer barriers for success and we look forward to more in the future.”