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Memphis Bus Riders Union rolls on

Location, Location, Location. One thing that is clear to any Memphis resident is that this is a city where one needs to have a car in order to easily conduct the business of daily life.

Location, Location, Location. One thing that is clear to any Memphis resident is that this is a city where one needs to have a car in order to easily conduct the business of daily life. If it’s getting to work or taking your children to school, if it’s going to see a doctor or buying groceries for your family, you cannot deny that all those mundane tasks become incredibly more difficult when you don’t have access to a car. If you own a car, just pause to think about that for a moment.

Quality public transportation is not simply some luxury perk of residency, but is at it’s core an issue of daily survival for tens of thousands of Memphians across our community. This was and is the motivation that galvanized a diverse collection of individuals and organizations into doing the work of building a Memphis Bus Riders Union – an organization led and directed by the real experts on the failures of our local system: the riders themselves.

For the past four months the Transportation Task Force has been meeting weekly at the offices of the Memphis Center for Independent Living. Since December, our members have hand delivered over 7,000 flyers to our fellow riders on buses across our city and have hosted three meetings where bus riders – and only bus riders – were allowed to finally have their say. A Town Hall meeting in January led to the founding of the local Bus Riders Union on Feb 18.

Many bus riders who have learned of the BRU and who have attended our meetings have expressed gratitude and relief that there is a collective body that is now working together to improve MATA services. People have found that their individual complaints – whether to MATA”s customer service hotline, to MATA officials and board members in public meetings, or to the City Council – have fallen on deaf ears.  

Frustrated bus riders have shared at MBRU meetings their numerous struggles with our local bus system. For example:

Bus rider “Georgia” explains that the No. 50 Poplar bus is almost always overcrowded and many riders have to stand for the duration of their ride.

“Anna” has shared that twice in one week, she was left standing the bus stop on Mt. Moriah by a bus driver who drove by her stop. The following week, the driver was not only rude to her, but when she called in a complaint to the customer service hotline, she was told to call back and leave a message. When she did, no one ever called her back.

A new resident of Memphis, “Rodrigo,” found that the first time he tried to take the trolley, he was told that the wheelchair ramp was not working, and he was unable to reach his destination.

Numerous union members report that they and their family members have to get rides after getting off of work at night, because the buses in those areas are not in service at that time. This lack of service is particularly prevalent in low-income communities of color.

The first bus riders union was founded in Los Angeles in 1994, and now there are 50 bus riders unions across the country, where citizens collectively work to put pressure on local transit authorities to improve their services. From Atlanta to Chicago, these bus riders unions have had successes in fighting back fare increases, increasing the numbers of buses and bus routes, and increasing frequency of services. Organizations working in the area of mass transit have come together to form a national coalition, Transit Riders for Public Transit (TRPT). Twenty-one organizations, most doing on-the-ground organizing around transit issues and environmental justice as well as civil rights, comprise the TRPT.

At the MBRU meeting on March 24, members will discuss the TRPT and its role in advocating for public transit at the national level and will vote on whether or not to affiliate with this national coalition.

On the local front, MATA has recently put forth a Short-Range Transit Plan (SRTP) and has called for public responses to the plan until March 31. Members of the MBRU will be attending the next MATA board meeting, Monday March 26 to provide feedback on the SRTP. We are calling on all transit-dependent people and people interested in improving our bus services to attend this meeting and to speak out about the proposed changes to routes, fares, schedules, performance measures, and MATAplus. The board meeting is at 3.30 p.m. at MATA’s headquarters, 1370 Levee Road. Interested citizens can read the SRTP online at www.mataplan.com.

The next meeting of the Memphis Bus Riders Union is March 24 at Streets Ministries: Center of Hope at 1304 North Graham. At this event representatives of the BRU will be available for comment.

For more information, visit mbru.org; contact the Task Force at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 901-205-9737.

(Submitted by Brad Watkins on behalf of the Transportation Task Force.)


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