Though understanding the need for the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) to reduce its service amid the spread of coronavirus, a spokesperson for the Memphis Bus Riders Union (MBRU) still worries how the cuts will limit people’s access to necessary locations in the city.
MATA announced last week that it would be reducing its service in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the community and the number of businesses across the city that cannot currently operate, due to orders by the mayors of Shelby County and Memphis.
Justin Davis, secretary of the Memphis Bus Riders’ Union, said the group understands MATA’s need to adjust its service hours and coverage for public health reasons.
“We want to be sure that drivers and other transit workers are getting the support they need,” Davis said. “But these changes are also going to have an immediate impact on bus riders who can't work from home, or who don't have access to resources in their own neighborhoods.”
For example, Davis said key routes for many like the 19 Vollintine, which runs from Downtown to East Memphis passing through North Memphis neighborhoods, or the 35 S. Parkway, which runs from South Memphis to Highland to Summer, have effectively been cut until further notice.
Davis said he is also concerned about the limited number of destinations for MATAplus paratransit service. The service is currently available from 4:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. every day, but will only transport passengers to work, medical care, grocery stores, or other essential businesses.
Davis said this list of locations excludes some designated as essential by the city’s order.
“We have to consider how people without cars are going to access basic services and maintain their livelihoods moving forward,” he said.
Initially, MATA said that the agency would operate its Sunday schedule, along with a few additional routes to essential services on a daily basis until further notice. This includes 17 routes.
After receiving feedback from bus riders indicating that the reduced service excluded access to certain essential services, MATA added three more routes on a modified schedule to its reduced service plan.
“When we first announced reduced levels of service, we were focusing on routes that were considered essential,” said Gary Rosenfeld, CEO of MATA. “But we heard from some customers today and decided that we needed to add three more routes to try to be as responsive to their needs as possible.”
However, Rosenfeld said MATA is “responding to the reality of resources.”
“With ridership dropping and knowing several businesses are not operating at this time per current executive orders, we are making decisions with the information that we have at the time,” he said. “As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, we will likely make more adjustments of service and we are requesting that employers be as flexible as possible as well.”