by Hannah Sayle
A MATA bus route to Southland Park for gaming and racing is now dumping riders on the side of Interstate 40, according to a video secretly recorded by members of the Memphis Bus Riders Union.
In the video, the bus driver says that as of about a month ago, Southland Park no longer allows MATA buses to drop off on Southland property. Instead, bus riders are dropped on the frontage road of I-40. With no sidewalks and cars and trucks speeding by, the group then walks or in the case of one wheel-chaired passenger, rolls over an uneven gravel road along the interstate and up an exit ramp to get to the racing park.
Check out the full video:
We spoke with Troy Keeping, manager at Southland Park Gaming and Racing, about why MATA was asked to stay off of Southland Park's property.
"We didn't ban MATA. What we did is ask them to relocate the bus stop because we were having safety issues in our parking lot," says Keeping. "We used to have the bus stop in our parking lot and after the Tunica flood and the substantial increase in business we had a couple of potential almost accidents and there were too many people waiting for the bus in high traffic lanes where the bus stop was located so we asked them to relocate it off of our property because of safety issues."
Keeping says they contacted the city of West Memphis to relocate the bus stop, though MATA resisted the move. According to Keeping, West Memphis asked Southland Park five or six years ago to put the stop on the park's property.
"It was fine because we didn't really have the volume of business that we have now," says Keeping.
"I feel bad that they relocated it in what I would consider a poor area," he says. "There's a bus station next to Ford of West Memphis, that's where we thought they were relocating it, 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."
When asked how moving the bus stop further away from Southland would be safer for bus riders, Keeping responded, "There's not a good location on the property so it's really up to MATA and the city to find a place that's appropriate for them to stop. Whether or not the MATA bus came directly to Southland or not was not our concern. We don't want the liability or the risk."
As for how many customers come to Southland Park via the MATA bus, Keeping says it was enough to create a safety hazard, but in relation to their total customer base it's not a lot of customers.
"When I saw the video, my first thought was, 'While it may not be appropriate, people should exercise common sense before they get off of a bus in the middle of the frontage road. The people themselves should be responsible for their own behavior," Keeping says. "If the bus isn't taking them where they need to go, then I wouldn't ride the bus. I don't know what person would think they should get off on a frontage road in a wheelchair and ride in traffic. I look at a customer that does something like that and I think, really? I wouldn't do that. I frankly wouldn't ride the bus and get off there."
But Brad Watkins of the Memphis Bus Riders Union and the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center says MATA hasn't posted any information about the changed route at any of their terminals.
"[Keeping] completely misses the point. If you're already on the bus and that's your stop and you're trying to get there — perhaps you work there or perhaps you're there as a customer — how else are you supposed to get where you're going?"
For now, Watkins says he has received reports that the MATA route to Southland Park now drops riders off at an abandoned gas station close to the Southland property so that people can go from the gas station to the parking lot of Southland Park.
A representative from MATA has not yet returned our phone calls.