Give Memphis A Lift

February 13th, 2014

A recent study by the University of Georgia (naturally, I got this from a Georgia grad) revealed the one factor, the one thing above all others, that can move someone from minimum wage to the next level.

You might think education, maybe skill set or hard work, attitude, aptitude – the whole boot straps thing.

Nope. Turns out all those things need a ride to work.

The single largest barrier to job mobility is transportation.

As published in The Daily News, February 14, 2014, and in The Memphis News, February 15-21, 2014



Rather than walking a mile in other people’s shoes, try riding a mile on their bus.

From where I’m sitting, basically Poplar Plaza, to, say, those new jobs at Electrolux is anywhere from an hour and 35 minutes to two hours and 20 minutes with 75 to 116 stops on three buses – with a nice little half-mile stroll built-in.

If you land one of those entry-level jobs at the new Conduit Global call center in Goodlett Farms, that’s about an hour and a half with 41 stops on two buses – and a two-mile walk coming and going.

If I’m going to the FedEx Hub to sort, it’s about an hour and only 29 stops – but that doesn’t matter since the buses don’t run past 10 or 11.

Go to the MATA website and try it, map a route from anywhere to anywhere.

“Getting jobs isn’t it,” friend Jay Martin said, “it’s getting them to the job.” He’s talking about the young people in the Technical Training Center he and his company, Juice Plus, built for the Boys and Girls Clubs. They turn out about 70 graduates at a time in three disciplines – culinary, logistics and automotive care – and they place 100% of them.

Of the 70, two may have transportation, and that’s shared with family, so Jay has to serve as a driving force in more ways than one. “We could easily triple placements if we could figure out how to get them to work.”

They can’t get to the kitchens or the tables out front. They can’t get to the warehouses and sorting facilities. They can’t get to the garages full of the fleets they could fix because they don’t have the wheels.

It’s a sad irony when a city known for getting things from A to B and all the way to Z all around the world by tomorrow morning can’t figure out a reliable way to get people to work this morning.

 I’m not asking government to go down this road – they have plenty enough potholes they haven’t fixed already. I’m not asking politically-appointed, politically-correct task forces for a master plan  – we have plenty enough stacked in forgotten corners already. I’m not asking MATA – something that massive is just too hard to move.

I’m asking private business to do what they do every day to thrive – get creative in your own self-interest.

Pay your people to carpool. Give the driver a per hour bump based on number of passengers. Get HR to identify and map employees, and match the findings to those with cars and recruit them. If mapping identifies employee concentrations, consider a small fleet or a bus or two, and recruit and train your own people to drive those vehicles for extra income a month or two a year.


Whatever works, because this isn’t working.

Whatever the cost, you’re losing busloads more in lost hours and productivity every day, and a willing work force is losing hope.

I’m a Memphian, and I need a lift.


I'm a Memphian by Dan Conaway

The book is available all over town – columns, comments and character references for a city filled with it and often absolutely full of it. Take a look.



Doug Campbell: Could you send me a copy of the aforementioned report from UGA? Or a link to the same? Thanks!

Jonathan Howell: The Salvation Army witnessed this issue first hand this past Christmas season. We hired an additional 70 plus employees for the Christmas season and quickly ran into a speed bump within the first week with not having enough people show up when they were scheduled to. We couldn't understand why people who were just telling us they needed this job urgently were now not willing to show up for work. We did a bit of research and found that these people were very willing to come to work but because our location to meet was out in Bartlett they had major issues getting from midtown, binghampton, and orange mound out to Bartlett on MATA. To help solve the problem we asked them to get to a bus station in mid-town where we then met them and drove them out to Bartlett. We then made sure there schedules allowed them to be done with their with enough time for us to drive them downtown to the main terminal where they all could catch their own bus that was headed to their neighborhood. We recognize that our system was far from perfect as it still took some workers over an hour to get home after work. We had a short season to try to help work with the transportation issue but we know and believe the issue is real and greatly affects peoples lives. Thanks Dan for your article. We will continue to search for new and creative ways to help get around this road block. "It’s a sad irony when a city known for getting things from A to B and all the way to Z all around the world by tomorrow morning can’t figure out a reliable way to get people to work this morning." - WOW!!!

guy miller: I agree. Johnny Vergos had some great ideas about this in the Commercial Appeal a few years ago.

Bobbi Gillis: MATA buses run from specific shopping center locations for ball games and other events. Surely there is a solution to this very real problem. Let's put our brilliant logistics minds to work to find it.

Leave a comment