On February 25, 2020, I attended the Shelby County Public Transportation Ad-hoc Committee Meeting held at Agricenter International. This meeting was of great interest to me because I care about transit policy and economic development in Memphis. In format, this meeting was virtually identical to a previous meeting held February 4 at Monumental Baptist Church in South Memphis (Daily Memphian story).
Commissioners Mick Wright, Michael Whalen, Brandon Morrison, and Amber Mills were present, as were MATA Director Gary Rosenfeld, EDGE CEO Reid Dulberger, and Assistant County Attorney Jessica Indingaro, representing the County Mayor’s office. About 30 other attendants were present, including representation from MICAH and the Memphis Bus Riders Union. Although Commissioner Tami Sawyer could not attend (out of town), her presence was definitely felt. According to Mick Wright, the multi-page handout on funding options was hers, as was the structure of the meeting.
My assessment of the position of the Commissioners who attended is that they agree that transit is definitely a core county responsibility. They share grave concerns as to how to find the money to adequately meet this responsibility and how to assure timely progress and accountability. The bus riders who attended are generally concerned about confusing bus schedules, inconsistent fee structures, and changes to the Crosstown route. EDGE is concerned that their PILOT and TIF programs are being misunderstood. The County Mayor’s prefers a 3rd car $145 annual fee plan. MICAH prefers an all-cars $20 annual fee plan which exempts households with annual incomes under $25,000.
What is my concern? It is actually broader than just this iteration of transit policy. I worry that, as a nation, our willingness to assess and spend taxes for the good of the community is declining sharply. We seem to care less and less about any schools but the ones containing children directly related to us; any roads other than the ones connecting our house with our church, our kids’ school, our work, and our local supermarket; any environmental issues that do not directly affect our health or our property values.
We love our personal cars because we can strictly control who gets in and where we go. Ever since Rosa Parks, many have abandoned buses for that reason. Buses carry people who we don’t want to see to places we don’t want to go.
We seem to have forgotten that we are all American, and that all of this country is America. As our definition of “American” narrows, our nation weakens. This is how great civilizations crumble into ruin and irrelevance.
That is my concern.
Gregory M. Blumenthal, PhD