As of two weeks ago, Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) bus riders journeying from Memphis to Southland Park Gaming and Racing in West Memphis were dropped off not at their usual stop on Southland's parking lot but on a busy frontage road next to Interstate 40.
A video of the unusual bus stop, taken by a member of the Memphis Bus Riders Union, shows riders, many of them elderly (and one young man in a wheelchair), walking on an unpaved surface next to the frontage road and up an exit ramp on a half-mile trek to the Southland dog track and casino.
The route has since been changed to a bus stop away from the frontage road, but some bus riders are questioning why the route was changed in the first place.
Troy Keeping, manager at Southland Park Gaming and Racing, said Southland asked the city of West Memphis to move the MATA bus stop off of Southland property for safety reasons.
"We didn't ban MATA," Keeping said. "What we did is ask them to relocate the bus stop, because we were having safety issues in our parking lot."
Keeping said they allowed MATA to put the bus stop on Southland property about five or six years ago, when business was modest enough that the additional traffic in the parking lot posed no safety concerns. But with better business came a number of "potential almost accidents," Keeping said, with too many people waiting for the bus in high-traffic lanes.
Keeping lamented that MATA elected to stop on the frontage road instead.
"There's a bus station next to Ford of West Memphis. That's where we thought they were relocating it," Keeping said. "But they're just dropping them there at the service road in front of Ford. Frankly, in my opinion, MATA has not done the best job."
However, Alison Burton, director of marketing and customer service for MATA, said the decision to drop riders off on an I-40 frontage road was not determined by MATA but by the city of West Memphis planning division, and that MATA posted information about the changed routes on the buses.
"MATA has been under contract with the city of West Memphis since June of 1999 to provide service for mobility within [the West Memphis] community," Burton said. "Routing, schedules, all of those things are determined by the city of West Memphis."
West Memphis' planning division could not be reached for comment.
Burton said she heard reports of MATA riders panhandling at Southland and believes this might have played a role in the request to move MATA off Southland property. She also said the stop will likely change again as MATA and the city of West Memphis are in conversation about how to make the Southland route safest for passengers.
Brad Watkins of the Memphis Bus Riders Union and the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center said he thinks a lot of questions remain unanswered.
"I understand that everyone's trying to throw each other under the bus here, but none of the simple questions have been answered," Watkins said. "Why didn't MATA post information about the routes before people got on the bus? And as far as Southland's excuse, MATA has insurance, so it wouldn't be Southland's liability if there were an accident with a MATA bus any more than it would be Southland's liability for any fender-bender that happened between two customers."
Watkins said the Memphis Bus Riders Union will take their concerns to the MATA board meeting on November 26th.