MATA extends free fares in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Free bus fares won’t be ending this week. The Memphis Area Transit Authority board approved the fare extension Tuesday afternoon as the city and county continue social distancing guidelines.

FOX13 found out how transportation fits into the mayor’s “Back in Business” reopening plan.

RELATED: Shelby County mayors announce joint “Back to Business” plan for reopening

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MATA’S CEO Gary Rosenfeld said it will take time before public transportation goes back to fully normal.

He said the transit authority’s biggest challenge is maintaining social distancing through each phase of reopening.

10 people or less will continue as the new normal on MATA buses.

Rosenfeld said the transit authority will revisit increasing that number when the city hits phase three of its reopening plan. That’s when groups of 50 or more will be allowed again.

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“I think the earliest that we would see phase 3 will be probably around the first part of June,” said Rosenfeld. “But if we can get the ridership up to 25 people per bus safely, you know we would be shifting the service priorities and be able to deliver more service.”

Rosenfeld said maintaining safe social distancing is one of MATA’s biggest challenges.

He said the agency is reviewing various ways to increase numbers safely.

“Whether or not if everyone is wearing masks for example, could it be three feet, and we’re looking into things like that and we’ll get guidance from the professionals,” he said

Under the 2020 CARES Act, MATA is eligible for $36 million in federal funding.

RELATED: Gov. Bill Lee breaks down guidelines to reopen stores and restaurants

Rosenfeld said they’re in the process of applying for grants to access the funding, but he said this funding may not make a significant dent.

“Many of the expenses have to be related to COVID-19 and maintaining service levels is one of the things it can be used for but the big thing is we have to be very conservative in our approach because we don’t yet know where local funding is going to be and local funding represents about 50% our total budget,” said Rosenfeld.

Whether there’s one person or ten, MATA said they clean buses every night after service and that won’t change whenever they increase capacity.

But Rosenfeld said they are talking about replacing the fabric surface on buses and replacing it with plastic so it’s easier to clean.

“MATA is a participant in the Joint Task Force. We do not foresee any changes to current MATA operations in Phase I. As we move forward, we will reevaluate in Phase II and beyond," said City of Memphis COO Doug McGowen.

The following guidelines related to managing the COVID-19 virus remain in effect until further notice:

  • Per the Mayor’s Executive Order, no more than 10 people will be allowed to board fixed-route buses and Trolley cars.
  • Signage is onboard fixed-route buses and Trolley cars to encourage social distancing for customers to sit apart.
  • No more than two passengers will be allowed to ride on any MATAplus paratransit vehicle (includes personal care attendant and/or escort).
  • MATA will only transport MATAplus paratransit customers to work, medical-related destinations (including dialysis, doctor appointments, and pharmacies) and to purchase/collect food from grocery stores, restaurants, or food distribution centers at non-profit organizations.

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