When the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA)’s Airways Transit Center opened earlier this month, MATA general manager Will Hudson made an announcement: Memphis would be getting bus rapid transit soon, according to the Memphis Daily News.
The MATA is getting ready to change the foundations of its route structure after decades of a radial bus transit system in a city where many do not own cars and have no other transportation options.
The first change comes next month, when MATA introduces an express bus to run on a busy stretch of street. The transit authority and Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton plan to keep a close eye on this pilot bus.
Moving to a new system means dedicated bus lanes and other measures to keep the buses rolling from point to point, and neither the start nor the ending will necessarily mean a trip downtown––a longtime complaint of those surveyed by MATA.
“You don’t have to build that much infrastructure,” Mayor Wharton said. “It’s dedicated lanes, synchronized (traffic) lights, making sure you have satellite parking facilities, that you have security, that they are well-lit. That’s not a lot of infrastructure that you have to do.”
Nashville recently introduced a BRT route. Wharton regards BRT as an intermediate step for a transit system that he hopes will eventually include light rail.
Light rail in Memphis has faced political doubt that has translated into not enough votes on the Memphis City Council at times for long-range planning. The public verdict on BRT starting next month could be a turning point.
By the end of the year, consultants will recommend to the MATA board a new route structure that is expected to cut the length of many routes as well as the number of bus stops, emphasize faster arrivals at destinations without going through neighborhoods and use the four transit centers, including the Airways center, in a more efficient way.