When Livable Memphis hosted a meeting last week to discuss what qualities bus riders would like to see in a new Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) general manager, they found that most riders agreed on one thing: They want a manager who rides the bus.
MATA is currently seeking a replacement for retired long-time General Manger Will Hudson, who started as a bus driver in 1964 and worked his way up to president and general manager. Hudson announced his retirement in November.
In the meeting at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, bus riders also expressed grievances about routes ending in the afternoon before most bus riders clock out for the day and the lack of 24-hour bus routes.
"The bus route that I need stops running at 3 p.m. every day," one woman said. "Who the hell gets off work at 3 p.m. every day?"
Others complained about the lack of seating and overhead shelter at many city bus stops, as well as a lack of information for non-English speaking bus riders.
Many echoed concerns that the above-mentioned problems wouldn't be solved unless a general manager "with a working-class background who has spent their life riding the bus" is chosen, as one member of the audience said.
"It's important for the new leader to have experience riding so they can directly face the challenges that riders encounter," said Shahin Samiei, secretary of the Memphis Bus Rider's Union.
Samiei said they also want a manager who will do what it takes to secure public funding for MATA: "We need a leader who is willing to stick their neck out to advocate for public funding. We've been seeing cuts for more than five years now from the Memphis City Council, and we need someone who will fight for the dollars needed to run the MATA system effectively."
Hudson has said that his successor's biggest hurdle will be that of securing funding. There is no dedicated source of funding for MATA, and route cuts are common as both the federal government and the city trim their own budgets.
To help choose the next manager, MATA has enlisted KL Executive Search based out of Washington D.C. K&L will compile all input from the meeting last Thursday, as well as input given from the Bus Rider's Union in previous meetings. From there, the company will present MATA with a list of appropriate candidates. Tom Fox, a MATA employee for more than 20 years, is currently serving as interim president and general manager.