MATA: Where is the Press Coverage?
Local & National News | May 14, 2024
Wanda, Wanda, Wanda. Where is the press coverage on the troubled $70M Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA)?

Written by Joe B Kent

 

MATA, under Bacarra Mauldin’s new leadership has a great opportunity. That opportunity is to get everything, regarding the struggling transit agency out on the public table. Without such disclosure, the Mauldin administration will be haunted by past deficiencies, while fueling the downward spiral of the $70M public agency. And the public should know that it is absurd to believe that MATA challenges are exclusively related to inadequate public funding.

Some may interpret this blog to be antagonistic to the Mauldin MATA team, but it is not. Besides, if it were, it would be unfair as Mauldin has been in office for only four months, while cleaning up from the Rosenfeld administration. And assuming a reformed, transparent, collaborative and efficiently managed transit agency, I am for reasonable public funding increases to assist challenged populations with needed transportation.

Recently, during this clean-up process, the Mauldin administration has been unable to produce current MATA financials for Board review. This lack of financial product shockingly comes soon after the City of Memphis loaned MATA $20M and MATA receiving a $18.4M federal grant (Cohen). Hopefully, those financials will be available at the upcoming City Council budget hearing along with a timeline stating when the City of Memphis can expect $20M from MATA for a loan due by June 30, 2024. Given past problems, MATA may need multiple Council budget hearings.

 

Triennial Audit and Financial Management

Local MATA deficiencies should be, in part, documented in a forthcoming release of once every three-year Federal Triennial Review. Anthony Amos, MATA Chief Compliance Officer, reported at the 2/27/24 MATA Board Commissioners meeting that MATA expects findings in 7 of 23 Triennial Review categories, with procurement, contract and financial management mentioned.

At the 2/27/24 meeting, where current financials were unavailable, MATA still managed to have the financial confidence to plow ahead with two large procurements in a $3.4M increase to an existing local Allworld contract to $5.9M and a new $5.8M contract to Flowbird, a French company, for ticket vending machines, for a total of $9.2M in in new purchases.

Allworld is a local minority black business favorite that has a rather diverse offering consisting of project management, engineering, training, technology, drone and perhaps even further service offerings. The $5.8M Flowbird ticketing purchase appears to be a financial loser for MATA, with machines not scheduled to start benefiting the fare box until 2031. This thesis will require more investigation, while knowing during the approval process, the MATA Board failed to ask for any ridership projections for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, that Flowbird will be serving.

As far as financial management concerns, consultant Hamish Davidson on 3/19/24 delivered a report to the Finance Committee, that said,

“We have seen no evidence of a post-cutover audit or monitoring to ensure the integrity of the data which has resulted in a longer process to ensure that quality of the financial data. There are accruals that require to be reviewed and updated. These are being worked through with senior management, finance, and the appropriate departments (MATA Finance).”

Consequently, no financial report was provided to the board on 3/19/24. The absence of a post-cutover audit would seem to imply that MATA did not employ a process to ensure newly implemented technology was generating accurate reporting. But this observation is just speculation based on the reading of the Davidson report.

No current financials were available for the public at the MATA April 2024 meeting, as the only item on that meeting agenda was closed to the public for an “Executive Session to discuss potential litigation”. So where is the good news?

Right Questions and Hope

Again, the new MATA administration opportunity is to get everything on the public table. During a recent City Council budget hearing, Councilors Yolanda Cooper-Sutton and Rhonda Logan were asking the right questions regarding the $20M MATA outstanding to the City and for expanded on demand services. An examination of the Federal Transit Database reveals MATA has the highest fixed route average trip costs of the peer group but near the least average trip costs for on demand services (Taxpayer).

A further examination of MATA’s presented public data shows a wide disparity in ridership across the fixed route network with poor 57% on time performance, while on demand achieves 95% performance. Per the MATA data presented at the 2/27/24 Board meeting, FY24 though January fixed individual route ridership ranges from a low of 4,457 passengers for the Lauderdale route to a high of 191,151 for Lamar (MATA Board).

This wide disparity in fixed route ridership across the network would lead to the thesis that with already the highest fixed route average trip costs in MATA’s peer group and nearly the lowest for on-demand, that some low ridership fixed routes could be eliminated and replaced with more reliable on demand services, without increasing overall costs.

This thesis needs further data support, which could be achieved by MATA releasing the average trip costs for each of their fixed routes and on demand service areas. But sadly, the Mauldin administration has been unwilling to collaborate with the public by releasing requested public data (Public Information).

Oversight Improvement Needed

A few years back, a bogus MATA funding formula from expiring PILOTs was locally approved. After the approval, local public officials patted themselves on the back, as MATA subsequently spiraled downward. Public oversight, in Memphis/Shelby is poor regarding local public funds and seemingly non-existent with state and federal funds.

Public transit is expensive and getting MATA public investment right will require both digging deep and rigorous oversight. The MATA Board is not going to do that oversight work, thereby pointing primarily to MATA’s local City Council funding body.

Again recently, the MATA Board failed to ask for ridership projections for the $136M BRT project when considering a $5.8M ticket vending solution for the BRT. MATA Board members are: Michael Fulton, Angus Blair, Sara Burnett, Janice Holder, Anton Mack, Ed Stephens, Sheila Williams, Martin Lipinski and Courtney McNeal (MATA Commisioners).

All local Memphis public oversight needs to improve as federal and state funders assume adequate LOCAL oversight of their distributed funds. Knowing what we know now about the mostly federally funded MATA, what might be up at Memphis Housing Authority? And keep in mind, documented are public financial botches with WIN, Workforce Midsouth and now MATA.

Why all the public financial botches with the Greater Memphis Chamber seemingly always in close proximity? Again, misdirected is the reported focus on “narrative” by Ted Townsend and Bill Dunavant of the Chamber. A narrative will do nothing to move Memphis forward with persistent public botching.

Let us hope the Mauldin administration fully leverages this opportunity to get everything on the public table to better insure a successful MATA and Mauldin administration. To get everything on the table for MATA this budget season will require: 1) MATA’s current financials, 2) final Triennial Audit Review document and 3) answering public information requests.

MATA may require more than one budget hearing but would be time well spent for a Memphis majority black community in need.

Check the Facts


Cohen, Representative Steve. April 4, 2024 - https://cohen.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/congressman-cohen-announces-full-year-transit-funding-memphis-tri-state

MATA Board of Commissioners. February 27, 2024 - https://matatransit.granicus.com/player/clip/63?view_id=1&redirect=true

MATA Board of Commissioners. Board Packet, February 27, 2024 - https://1drv.ms/b/s!AiNXRWm6KZQigqUf_u_5ksUse891IA?e=KaRTq1

MATA Board of Commissioners. April 23, 2024, Board Agenda. https://matatransit.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=A&ID=1193357&GUID=EEB50F69-B325-40AA-B767-A22263D9EBBD

MATA Commissioners - https://www.matatransit.com/about/mata-leadership/

MATA Finance Committee. March 19, 2024 - https://1drv.ms/b/s!AiNXRWm6KZQigqUg9EfnKXxA-0Qhbg?e=NZwSs5

Public Information Request. Fixed route outstanding from MATA since 3/9/24 - https://1drv.ms/b/s!AiNXRWm6KZQigp1k4TrNbzzAPNaraA?e=ZscbPd

Public Information Request. On demand outstanding from MATA since 3/12/24 - https://1drv.ms/b/s!AiNXRWm6KZQigp181acou1jEmgiYwQ?e=2y6sAc

Taxpayer Justice. MATA Costs - https://taxpayerjustice.net/mata-costs/

Learn more about Joe B Kent

Joe B Kent

Career and Workforce Development Consultant

Joe B Kent

Career and Workforce Development Consultant

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