Bus Riders Union, Inc. Files Civil Rights Complaint Against MATA

Posted by Louis Goggans on Fri, Mar 16, 2012 at 4:22 PM

As rain trickled down this morning, members of the Memphis Bus Riders Union, Inc. held a press conference in front of City Hall to announce legal action against the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA).

At the press conference, union members announced that they’ve filed a 25-page federal civil rights complaint against the city’s bus and trolley operator, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Regional Transit Authority, the Tennessee Department of Transportation, and the City of Memphis.

The complaint has been filed with the Federal Transit Administration, a division of the United States Department of Transportation.

The complaint was filed under the provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination by any agency that receives federal funding. If the agency does so, a citizen or a group can file a complaint and have the agency investigated.

The union’s complaint claims that MATA, a recipient of federal funds, is in violation of the act.

"The discrimination deals not just with the idea that there’s racial discrimination in terms of segregation on the bus system here. That’s not what we’re saying," said Lorenzo Ervin, one of the bus riders union organizers. "The segregation comes from a form of transit inequity where they’re giving money to white areas, like in the system of the trolleys, especially the Madison Avenue trolley. They put all that money into it, and it doesn’t do anything for the black community. Primarily, all the riders from the community being served on it are white. Black areas have no trolley service whatsoever."

The union is demanding lower bus rider fares, a reversal of all 2011 bus schedule changes and route reductions unless MATA can justify them, cleaner buses, the creation of all-night bus lines for night workers and students, and better customer service of its drivers.

The complaint also protests racial and socio-economic discrimination in the operations, planning, and funding of mass transit in the state of Tennessee and the Memphis and Mid-South region.

“If it turns out that they are engaging in discrimination, they will have to give back their federal funds and be suspended from receiving further federal funds until they stop discriminating,” Ervin said.

The union is having a meeting on March 31st at the Whitehaven Community Center, in which members will discuss their intentions and show attendees how to file their own complaints. It will last from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“We want the public to know that they don’t have to put up with these conditions,” Ervin said. “They can file civil rights complaints just like we’re doing. If they don’t know, and most people don’t know, we will teach them how.”

A representative from the Transportation Task Force stated that the Memphis Bus Riders Union and the Memphis Bus Riders Union, Inc. are two different groups. The Memphis Bus Riders Union representative said the group is not at all connected with this filed complaint against MATA.

Comments (16)

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Can't blame them for trying.

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Posted by merlin on 03/16/2012 at 2:02 PM

Merlin, I agree with you. I don't ride the buses so I have no opinion of the merits of this.

The state gets federal funding , they must also have to abide by all federal laws. Like I said before, there is more than one way to skin a cat. LOL

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 03/16/2012 at 2:53 PM

Can anyone, in good conscience, deny the merit of this complaint? You only have to live in Memphis for a minute to realize who MATA's primary constituency is, and how badly it treats them.

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Posted by M_Awesomeberg on 03/16/2012 at 3:49 PM

I think that Cleveland and Madison is about as diverse as Memphis gets! I have Vietnamese-American friends,Saudi Arabian-American friends, Euro-American friends, and Afro-American friends that all live within a half mile from there.

I rode the bus using a bike attached to the front to work for over 4 months this fall/winter and if ANYTHING the riders should be upset about the GPS system that MATA bought last year.

Heard it cost $11,000,000! Money that should have been spent on the employees of MATA for raises and keeping the trolly & bus's windows, doors, seats,suspension and other systems in top working order! Both are falling apart since they have a fixed budget and are lacking funds.

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Posted by Mark Plumlee on 03/16/2012 at 4:00 PM

More minorities ride the Madison Avenue trolley than non-minorities. The problem is that not enough people of any race, creed, or sexual orientation ride it.

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Posted by Clyde on 03/16/2012 at 4:00 PM

The trolley goes through a very diverse area. I believe this complaint is without merit. But it could unfortunately kill the expansion of the trolly through Overton Square. In an ideal world the trolly would go down Madison and out Cooper to the airport.

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Posted by Matt on 03/16/2012 at 4:28 PM

Marty, I can. MATA is screwing over the poor, and to a (slightly) lesser extent every single rider. Whether or not the makeup of the city divides the poor/rich barrier along racial lines is beside the point. While I do hope that this group succeeds on pretty much all fronts, I'm not convinced a civil rights suit will get the job done. I guess we'll see.

And yeah, the rates are insane. All-day passes are now grey market items - I shit you not. Hang around a bus stop on Summer long enough and you can grab one half-price.

I just got back from a ~200k city in Mexico - there was a bus every 60 seconds that would take you across town for ~50 cents. I'm pretty sure they are a fleet of owner-operators, all running buses about half the size of a standard MATA. Of course it's a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison since a much larger percentage of the population rides the bus there, but at the same time I'd like to see a similar direction taken here: more buses, smaller buses, more routes, cheaper fares, more riders.

tl;dr - since MATA sucks so badly, the only riders are those with no other option - the poor. Make MATA suck less, and there will be more riders. I hope the suit works, but I'm afraid it won't :(

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Posted by cr33 on 03/16/2012 at 4:42 PM

However well intended, I think that some of you are missing the point. I don't think that they are crying out and out racism, however they are probably saying that the outcome of the spending is giving them a disparate benefit.

I have never been in a city this large where a perosn could not get to work and back using public transportation.

It seems that the MATA and the city has their priorties out of whack. I call it appeasement of certain groups of people.

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 03/16/2012 at 4:44 PM

I have to agree with Clyde. I think a good bit of the lack of ridership comes from the ineffective routes and the very poor public image that MATA has.

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Posted by mad_merc on 03/16/2012 at 4:49 PM

@cr33 You are making reference to the jitneys in regard to Mexico I do so believe, but that would be contingent upon the particular area you traveled to and all, because they also have regular buses (think MATA but with normalcy) as well. That is a whole other thing. I think in the US, way South Florida (like, right before the Keys) has some and that is about it. Mexico, Colombia, The Philippines, and most especially Haiti have scads of jitneys. The Philippines and Haiti are renown for them. They are also sometimes called a "share taxi."If Memphis as a whole, not just Downtown and Midtown, had them, it would be super. There would be no complaints or anything.

With the manner in which this complaint is being filed and all, remember a fair amount of people have spoken of MATA denying ladies and gentlemen with physical disabilities aboard the bus. It is always something about the wheelchair ramp not working even though it can be tended to manually instead of just automatically. Just that alone is just a morally wrong thing for MATA to do. It truly is.

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Posted by merlin on 03/16/2012 at 5:01 PM

Nah - I was talking about the buses. I've never seen so many. There were the 'gua-guas' or jitneys also, and the whole shit-ton of taxis as well.

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Posted by cr33 on 03/16/2012 at 5:03 PM

So let me get this straight. There is the Bus Riders Union, Inc and Memphis Bus Riders Union. Two months ago we had neither. Could the Flyer explain the difference and why there are 2?

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Posted by Doubting Thomas on 03/16/2012 at 5:14 PM

So. You can't spend federal dollars on the people that provided the federal dollars? Tigers got me all cynical.

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Posted by 38103 on 03/17/2012 at 12:06 AM

It's the Mid South Peace & Justice Center. In other words white kids living off of mom and dad while sticking it to "the man".

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Posted by Deshawn on 03/17/2012 at 12:08 AM

Maybe they have a valid point with evidence NOT mentioned but as someone who lives in midtown and works downtown and takes public transit often, the idea that "especially the Madison Avenue trolley line...doesn’t do anything for the black community" is absurd. Cleveland and Madison is not a white area. I would be more than comfortable stating that the white ridership of the Madison line has to be less than 5%. Fixing MATA is a catch-22 though. They wont make it awesome because they don't have the ridership and thus, the funds. They don't have the ridership because it sucks. We can all dream though, right?

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Posted by Midtown_Rider on 03/17/2012 at 7:43 PM

This is a perfect example of mis-guided priorities. We can spend money to build a bike trail over the bridge, however, we can't spend the money necessary to get poor and low income people to work and back, regardless of shift. What is wrong with this picture?

This is a perfect example of the flawed idea that government services should be financially self sustaining. Some services are not there to either make a profit and/or break even. Some city services are there to enhance the quality of life and to provide for necessary economic growth of a city. Without adequate public transportation, a lot of low and moderate income business will not move to Memphis. Why? There is no guaranteed way of workers to get to the job.

Things that a city provide that are considered perks should be financially viable, however, public transportation, just like sanitation services should not be one of them.

One forgets that Memphis is larger, in land area, than a lot of cities with higher populations. St. Louis, is a good example.

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 03/18/2012 at 9:20 AM
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