by Hannah Sayle
On Monday, we reported that a MATA bus to Southland Park Gaming and Racing in West Memphis was no longer letting passengers off in front of the Southland building and was instead dropping passengers off on a nearby frontage road off Interstate 40. The accompanying video shot by members of the Memphis Bus Riders Union shows passengers navigating the unpaved side of a frontage road and traveling up an exit ramp to get to Southland Park.
As to why MATA was no longer allowed to drop off riders on Southland property, Troy Keeping, manager at Southland Park Gaming and Racing, responded that Southland Park asked the city of West Memphis to relocate the bus stop because of safety issues the bus stop was causing in the Southland parking lot.
"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," says Keeping. "So we asked them to relocate it off of our property because of safety issues."
Alison Burton of MATA says she had also heard complaints of MATA bus riders panhandling on Southland property, and that was perhaps another reason Southland asked the bus to be rerouted.
Burton also says the reroute to an I-40 frontage road was not determined by MATA, but by the city of West Memphis planning division.
"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 says. "Routing, schedules, all of those things are determined by the city of West Memphis."
Since the video was taken, Ford of West Memphis has asked the city of West Memphis to have MATA cease dropping passengers off on the frontage road in front of their dealership. The stop has now moved further up the road, closer to Southland Park. But the stop will likely change again Burton says, as MATA and the city of West Memphis are in conversation about rerouting the Southland bus in a way that will be safest for passengers.
"This decision [to remove the bus stop] is one that Southland is welcome to make," says Burton. "It was not received well by some of the people who ride over there, but the people who live in West Memphis didn't complain. From what I understand, [the city of West Memphis] didn't get a lot of complaints from their constituents, and the service was developed for tourism, to get people [in West Memphis] to come over to Memphis."
The Southland route, according to Burton, was originally intended to be a free shuttle, paid for by the city of West Memphis, for West Memphians to get to Memphis. In recent years, however, Burton says the free shuttle had actually worked in the opposite direction, with Memphians using the bus to get to West Memphis more than the other way around. As such, the city of West Memphis decided to shift the bus from a free service to a paid service in February of this year.