A group of regular Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) riders have formed a union to voice their concerns about the transit system and brainstorm ways to improve MATA’s service.
The Memphis Bus Riders Union had its first meeting on Saturday, February 18th at the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Union Hall.
One union member, Shelia Williams, has depended on the city bus system for transportation since 2008.
Williams said the lack of buses traveling to certain areas in Shelby County, such as parts of Cordova and Collierville, is something that hinders many riders from obtaining better jobs. Currently, the furthest that MATA buses travel is Germantown Parkway.
“The buses don’t transport into the suburban areas where a lot of the poor are employed,” Williams said. “If they don’t have a car, they lessen their opportunities of even working in the suburban areas where the pay rate is a little bit higher because they don’t have adequate transportation.”
Prior to the formation of the union, upset riders gathered on January 28th at the AFSCME Union Hall to voice their concerns about overcrowding, poor customer service, bus leaks, and confusing routes.
The group, which was initiated by the Transportation Task Force, is composed only of people who ride the bus. Fifty-nine people attended the union’s inaugural meeting.
Union member Josue Rodriguez moved from Memphis to Texas during last Thanksgiving. Rodriguez is wheelchair-dependent, and he uses the bus as his primary transportation.
He joined the union after experiencing multiple issues with bus wheelchair ramps. Rodriguez said he’s frequently told the ramps are not working, but he doesn’t believe they’re always broken.
“One time when I was going to set up my utilities, the driver told me I was going to have to wait for another bus because the ramp that extends out wasn’t working,” said Rodriguez, community organizer for the Memphis Center for Independent Living. “I knew that, although the button they use to extend the ramp wasn’t working, they could do it manually.”
The bus riders union is pushing for an increase in bus routes (primarily to low-income neighborhoods), cleanliness, and more accuracy with the pick-up times listed on bus schedules.
The group is also seeking lower transit fares. The average cost for an adult to ride the bus is $1.75 or $3.25 to ride all day. The average cost to ride the MATA Plus, the bus available to people with disabilities, is $3.50.
Although the group isn’t pleased with MATA’s current service, many members without vehicle access have no choice but to continue utilizing the transit system. The group is asking local churches to get involved by providing their members with volunteer transportation to meetings.
“The ultimate goal, on a fundamental level, is to put transportation decisions into the hands of customers, into the hands of people who use MATA and depend on MATA everyday,” said Brad Watkins, member of the Transportation Task Force. “What normally happens is these decisions are made, and then it’s put out to the public once things actually are determined. Input is one thing, but front-end input is altogether another thing.”
The bus riders union is having its next meeting on March 3rd at the Riverview Community Center on 1891 Kansas St. The meeting will last from noon to 2 p.m.