In the span of four days, MATA Plus rider Betty Anderson filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at the Federal Transportation Administration and submitted an injury claim to the Memphis Area Transit Autority (MATA) concerning two separate incidents. MATA has since gotten one bus driver temporarily off the road and started an investigation into Anderson's claim.
On November 15th, Anderson, who uses a wheelchair for her rheumatoid arthritis, was picked up by a MATA Plus bus -- vehicles specially equipped to handle wheelchairs -- at her home on Jackson Avenue. It was the bus operator's first day on the road without a supervisor, and Anderson says as she was being loaded onto the bus, she noticed that the wheelchair lift was broken. When the bus arrived at her workplace, Anderson says the weight of her wheelchair caused the lift to jerk, sending pain down her back. Anderson says she had a spinal fusion operation a few years ago.
"It hurt pretty bad for about an hour after I got to work. I probably would have been okay, though, if I hadn't had to stay on the bus bouncing around in my chair for hours after work," said Anderson. "It's like riding a bucking mule."
She says the same driver picked her up from work at 3:25 p.m. -- 36 minutes late -- but she didn't arrive at her destination until 6 p.m. She had intended to stop on Main Street and take a trolley to Central Station for a Tennessee Department of Transportation meeting. But she missed her 4:45 p.m. appointment at the Main Street location, however, because the driver got lost trying to find the home of another rider.
Anderson says the driver used a cell phone 12 times trying to get directions from other drivers. Cell phone use by drivers is against MATA policy, and Anderson claims the driver never once looked at the map book on the bus.
"Bus drivers are not permitted to use cell phones," said Alison Burton, public relations director for MATA. "All buses are equipped with a radio system, and there is no need for them to make contact with a cell phone."
At 5:20 p.m., Anderson contacted MATA and reported the delays. A replacement driver was eventually sent to take over.
"The director of MATA [William Hudson] did confirm that Operator 913 was placed back into training," said Alison Burton, public relations director for MATA. "From there, they will ensure that she has a better working knowledge of the streets in Memphis and will review all other policies, including cell phone use."
Burton says Anderson is a frequent rider who uses MATA Plus almost daily. She says Anderson is quick to report policy violations and other problems, and many operational changes have been made based on Anderson's input.
The following day, Anderson sent her complaint to the Office of Civil Rights at the Federal Transportation Administration claiming poor service for disabled persons using MATA Plus. She said she reported the November 15th incident, as well as problems with MATA Plus service being more than 30 minutes late on several occasions and long telephone hold times for people requesting MATA Plus service.
Three days later, Anderson was using the MATA Plus service again when she said a belt used to tie her wheelchair down broke, sending her chair spinning into the aisle. She says her previous injury was worsened significantly as the wheelchair jerked around.
"By the time I got home, I was sick to my stomach the pain was so bad," said Anderson. "I've had to miss work because of it."
Anderson filed an injury claim, and Burton said MATA is currently investigating the complaint. If MATA is found at fault, it will reimburse any medical bills.
Burton said injury investigations can take a long time while investigators determine whether or not the incident was preventable. n