Bus Riders Union Asks For Improvements at North End Terminal 

Union report looks at security, sanitary conditions, and other issues at downtown terminal.

It's doubtful that anyone, not even Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) President Ron Garrison or MATA board member Chooch Pickard, would say the North End Terminal bathrooms are in good shape.

"It's horrible. It's like third-world conditions," said Pickard, referring to the state of the downtown bus terminal restrooms.

Garrison admitted that, although they've put extra staff on cleaning duty in those bathrooms, he didn't think "the extra cleaning being done is adequate."

Renovated restrooms at the North End Terminal are one of many improvements the Memphis Bus Riders Union (MBRU) is demanding in a new plan addressing what they consider to be inadequacies at the downtown station. Among those are problems with MATA's contracted security officers, poor customer service due to a lack of personnel, and general lack of aesthetics.

"It's been a long time since that place has seen some love," said MBRU's Bennett Foster. "We're hoping the MATA board will adopt this plan and that they can set aside some funding in this budget cycle."

Garrison hadn't seen MBRU's plan as of press time since they're planning to introduce it at MATA's June board meeting. But he said bathroom renovations at the downtown terminal are already in the works. Renovation work should start before the end of this fiscal year, he said.

"Those bathrooms were one of the first things I saw when I was brand new [last summer] and touring all the facilities," Garrison said. "We immediately began to look for money in the budget or some way we could keep the bathrooms cleaner."

Perhaps a more complicated issue in MBRU's plan addresses issues with security officers from Ambassador Worldwide Protection Agency, which MATA contracts with to provide security at the terminal facilities. Foster said the union has received complaints from riders that officers have harassed riders for wearing sagging pants, and one officer was overheard using a racial slur.

MBRU is demanding that MATA terminate its contract with Ambassador and begin contracting with Memphis police officers for security since the South Main precinct is moving its offices into the North End Terminal this fall. They say that will create better transparency.

"With Memphis police, if we have any issues, we can do an open records request. But with a private company, they don't have to tell us anything. They can keep us in the dark," Foster said.

Pickard is pushing for body cameras for the Ambassador security officers, and Garrison said he's working with Ambassador to correct the problems. Garrison agrees that body cameras would be a good idea.

"I think that would help a lot of things," Garrison said. "For example, when you know your mom and dad are watching you and you're 15, you're probably not going to go in and have a glass of wine or beer in front of them. You'll be on your best behavior. That's so the customer will have a higher level of service."

Other MBRU demands for the North End Terminal include an intercom that would announce when buses arrive, art exhibits, a play area for kids, free wifi, and a new paint job, among others.

Garrison agrees with some of those suggestions. He said he'd love an intercom system if MATA could find the money for it. And in other transit systems where he's worked, he says he often incorporated art into bus facilities.

"It helps create a sense of place and a sense of wonder," Garrison said. "This is something we haven't done yet, but what if we had partnerships with local artists and arts organizations and gave them an opportunity to display their art? That's what I would like to do."

The MBRU is also asking MATA to hire more customer service staff system-wide. Garrison admits that customer service "is not what it could be" and says that's something MATA will be focusing on.

"There are just a few customer service reps, and they do the best they can with what they have. But the only way to solve this issue is to employ more customer service reps and more people on staff who can answer the phone," Foster said.

Pickard said he's in agreement with the concerns of the MBRU and that, when the plan is presented to the board, he'll push for some of these changes. But he warned that change will take time.

"It's going to take a long time to turn the entire ship around, but we're going to need to start seeing incremental change very soon," Pickard said. "There's been a lot of frustration, but we have a new [MATA president in Ron Garrison]."

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