Poor public transportation in Memphis makes commute difficult for those without a vehicle

 

It’s crowded. The bus hits a pothole that bounces the passengers around, but no one seems bothered by it. Men and women in work uniforms seem to have the same distant look on their face, whether they are staring out the window or down at their feet. The long, green vehicle stops, and six more people pay their fare and step on to the bus, grabbing a handle hanging from the roof. This is the last of five MATA buses to run Southbound on Highland Street in the afternoon.  
Bernice Reaves takes this bus almost every day,except for the days that doesn’t arrive according to schedule.

 

“They’re slow, and they ain’t never on time,” Reaves said.

The 46-year-old University of Memphis employee has been using the MATA bus system for two years ever since her car broke down. She relies on the public transportation for her ride to and from work, as well as for trips to the grocery store. She said she has been late several times because the bus will either arrive too early or later than it’s posted time for pickup and departure.
“I was sitting in the McDonald’s the other day getting some food before work, because I knew I had 15 minutes before the bus come,” Reaves said. “Then I look up through the window, and it’s about to leave.”

A Mata bus stops to pick up a few riders. This bus runs from Downtown to Winchester Street.

A Mata bus stops to pick up a few riders. This bus runs from Downtown to Winchester Street.

She said she and several other people had to wait 45 minutes for the next bus to come, and that’s not the first or last time that has happened to her.
“I be running late to work all the time because of these buses,” she said “I don’t need to be running late so much, because this my first year at this job, so I’m still under review.”

Reaves said that if she late too often, she fears The U of M will let her go.

Reaves lives and works in the University District,so she uses the bus most on the Highland Street strip. Depending on the day, buses only run in this area for an hour or two in the morning and evening, so commuting via public transportation is limited to certain times of day.

In addition to issues of timeliness, safety can be an issue on buses. Reaves was sitting on a bus in the Uptown area in the beginning of September when a man was shot in the chest two seats in front of her. She fled from the bus, and said she stopped riding the bus for about a month. She didn’t want to start riding it again, but she said it was too hard to get around without it. She said she would rather not relive the event by talking about it.

“I seen some shit, but people don’t usually mess with me. I keep to myself, so I don’t have any problems.” —Ed Yarbrough

Ed Yarbrough has been riding MATA buses for over 30 years.

“I’ve seen plenty of shit happen on these buses, but I ain’t scared of anything,” Yarbrough said stroking his big grey beard and keeping his gaze directly ahead of him. He said he has seen several fights and two armed robberies since he started riding in the 80’s.

“I seen some shit, but people don’t usually mess with me,” he said. “I keep to myself, so I don’t have any problems.”

Yarbrough said he was robbed once when a man followed him off the bus and demanded his money at knifepoint.

“I ain’t have shit in my wallet,” Yarbrough said. “I didn’t really care, because it just made him look like a fool.”

Two trolley buses stop at Main Street and Monroe Avenue, but no one get on. More buses run in the inner-city area than in other parts of town.

Two trolley buses stop at Main Street and Monroe Avenue, but no one get on. More buses run in the inner-city area than in other parts of town.

 Allison Burton, the director of customer service, said that the MATA gives people the opportunity to connect to others in their city.

“There’s a sense of comradery that is built when you’re seeing some of the same faces everyday on your way to work.”

Both Reaves and Yarbrough said that they have met plenty of people taking the MATA bus.

“A lot of the same people be on the bus everyday, so I made some friends using it,” Reaves said. “It may be scary at times, and it stay being late, but at least I made some friends.”

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About the Author

Robbie Porter
Robbie Porter is a photographer and layout editor for The Daily Helmsman. He has worked as a reporter for the Helmsman in the past, but prefers to spend the majority of his time in the field behind a camera. He plans on receiving his B.A. in journalism at the University of Memphis in December. The Memphis native will be reporting on poverty and homelessness in the Memphis area using visual storytelling to put a face on poverty in the Bluff City.

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