Transit- Bus riders union in Memphis urges support of 1-cent gas tax- The Commercial Appeal

Posted: October 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

October 15, 2012

Carrying bright yellow signs, wearing bright yellow T-shirts and handing out bright yellow leaflets, about 15 members of the Memphis Bus Riders Union spent Monday afternoon at the intersection of Poplar and Cleveland urging city voters to support a one-cent-per-gallon tax on gas.

The referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot asks voters to approve the tax which could raise from $3 million to $6 million, money earmarked for the Memphis Area Transit Authority.

Car drivers make a lot of “noise” that nobody rides the bus, but they’re not out driving when the nearly 40,000 daily riders are on the bus, said Bennett Foster of the riders union.

“A lot of people who have a lot to say about us complaining about the bus system don’t ride it,” Foster said. “It’s not until you try to ride it to work and see you have to plan three hours in advance.”

Foster contends there is a racial and economic component to the inadequate bus service in some parts of town. The majority of riders are African-American and make less than $10,000 a year, he says.

“So this is not a priority for the city because it’s poor and work-class people of color. We want to make it a priority and we’ll march and demonstrate to make that happen,” he said.

If the referendum passes, the riders union wants MATA to add routes and buses, and provide more frequent services on evenings and weekends. That includes areas of North and South Memphis where service ends at 6 p.m., Foster said, while service to East Memphis continues to 11 p.m.

MATA had 80,000 riders and more extensive bus route system in the early 1980s, before federal funds for the operation of public transit systems were slashed, said Alison Burton, MATA spokeswoman.

“We laid off so many bus operators, we didn’t hire new operators of 15 years. We just kept calling them back,” Burton said.

Federal law prohibits MATA from actively promoting the referendum, so the support for its passage is welcomed by MATA officials.

“We really appreciate any participation from riders and supporters of the one-cent tax to help convey that message to voters to help understand why it’s important to have a vital transit system in your city,” Burton said.

Jay Bland, 37, who on Monday was buying gas at a station at Poplar and Cleveland for a truck that holds 25 gallons, may sympathize with bus riders who need better hours for nights and weekends, but he does not support the tax.

“Gas is already high enough as it is,” Bland said.


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