As rain trickled down this morning, members of the Memphis Bus Riders Union, Inc. held a press conference in front of City Hall to announce legal action against the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA).
At the press conference, union members announced that they’ve filed a 25-page federal civil rights complaint against the city’s bus and trolley operator, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Regional Transit Authority, the Tennessee Department of Transportation, and the City of Memphis.
The complaint has been filed with the Federal Transit Administration, a division of the United States Department of Transportation.
The complaint was filed under the provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination by any agency that receives federal funding. If the agency does so, a citizen or a group can file a complaint and have the agency investigated.
The union’s complaint claims that MATA, a recipient of federal funds, is in violation of the act.
"The discrimination deals not just with the idea that there’s racial discrimination in terms of segregation on the bus system here. That’s not what we’re saying," said Lorenzo Ervin, one of the bus riders union organizers. "The segregation comes from a form of transit inequity where they’re giving money to white areas, like in the system of the trolleys, especially the Madison Avenue trolley. They put all that money into it, and it doesn’t do anything for the black community. Primarily, all the riders from the community being served on it are white. Black areas have no trolley service whatsoever."
The union is demanding lower bus rider fares, a reversal of all 2011 bus schedule changes and route reductions unless MATA can justify them, cleaner buses, the creation of all-night bus lines for night workers and students, and better customer service of its drivers.
The complaint also protests racial and socio-economic discrimination in the operations, planning, and funding of mass transit in the state of Tennessee and the Memphis and Mid-South region.
“If it turns out that they are engaging in discrimination, they will have to give back their federal funds and be suspended from receiving further federal funds until they stop discriminating,” Ervin said.
The union is having a meeting on March 31st at the Whitehaven Community Center, in which members will discuss their intentions and show attendees how to file their own complaints. It will last from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“We want the public to know that they don’t have to put up with these conditions,” Ervin said. “They can file civil rights complaints just like we’re doing. If they don’t know, and most people don’t know, we will teach them how.”
A representative from the Transportation Task Force stated that the Memphis Bus Riders Union and the Memphis Bus Riders Union, Inc. are two different groups. The Memphis Bus Riders Union representative said the group is not at all connected with this filed complaint against MATA.