Why not ride the bus? - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Why not ride the bus?

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The bus drivers swung open the doors, we stepped on, and slipped dollars into the ticket dispenser. (Photo Source: Ashli Blow) The bus drivers swung open the doors, we stepped on, and slipped dollars into the ticket dispenser. (Photo Source: Ashli Blow)
We crossed Madison Avenue to Cooper Street and celebrated when stumbling on a small green bus sign bolted to a light post. (Photo Source: Nic Harris) We crossed Madison Avenue to Cooper Street and celebrated when stumbling on a small green bus sign bolted to a light post. (Photo Source: Nic Harris)
Ashli Blow and Nic Harris wrote this piece for WMC Action News 5's Short Social Stories series after #CarFreeMemphis started conversation on social media in the Memphis network. (Photo Source: Nic Harris) Ashli Blow and Nic Harris wrote this piece for WMC Action News 5's Short Social Stories series after #CarFreeMemphis started conversation on social media in the Memphis network. (Photo Source: Nic Harris)
After taking a two-seat row behind the front seating, usually left open for elderly and disabled passengers, we noted the bus was clean. (Photo Source: Ashli Blow) After taking a two-seat row behind the front seating, usually left open for elderly and disabled passengers, we noted the bus was clean. (Photo Source: Ashli Blow)
MEMPHIS, TN -

(WMC) - Eighteen dedicated Memphians committed to going car free through the month of April. Appropriately called Car-Free Memphis, the group ambitiously kicked off the 30-day challenge by hopping on a bike or bus.

When the WMC Action News 5 digital team talked about the challenge for a story idea, we openly discussed that the city's public transit options were possibly not up to par to provide for all of our transportation needs. Then we all took a reality check: None of us in the room had ever taken a bus with the Memphis Area Transit Authority. Jason, one of the participants blogging the challenge, says it best:

"I have to admit up front I've bought into all the anecdotal information about our transit system over the years and had essentially written it off as inconvenient, unreliable, and unsafe. "

So we asked, why not ride the bus? And we sent some of our own, Ashli and Nic, on a bus as our small part in car-free Memphis and to find out the rumors and the truths.

WMC Action News 5 Digital Team's first bus ride:

On a warm, sunny spring afternoon, we found ourselves in the heart of Overton Square—scrambling desperately to find our bus stop.

Bus stop number 747 should have been somewhere in front of Boscos and the upcoming Robata Ramen & Yakitori Bar according to the map, right? With no stop in near sight and less than five minutes until pickup time, we checked our MATA Traveler, a tool that provides real-time maps and schedules, for the next closest stop.

The traveler failed on our mobile devices and did not send us to the map we requested, but we came prepared; an image of stops near Overton Square was already saved to our phones. We crossed Madison Avenue to Cooper Street and celebrated when stumbling on a small green bus sign bolted to a light post.

We found it right on time, 11:27 a.m. But, no sign of the bus.

Our stop was not one with a shelter, which are the bus stops with seats and a small awning. Also, the sign didn't have a bus stop number on it and with a late bus, we hoped we were in the right place.

Constriction workers busily carried on in the square adding on to the Second Line patio and soon to be completed Hattiloo theater. We asked if they saw a bus come through often in the area. Most of them responded no, although, soon enough we saw a bus approach from Cooper—five minutes after its scheduled time.

The bus drivers swung open the doors, we stepped on, and slipped dollars into the ticket dispenser.

"You know it doesn't give change?" said the driver as one of us pushed in a $5 bill for a $3.50 day pass.

"Yes?" we replied.

Then the doors shut. It was clear this was our first ride on a MATA bus.

After taking a two-seat row behind the front seating, usually left open for elderly and disabled passengers, we noted the bus was clean. And we immediately began comparing it to buses we had taken in other cities like D.C. or Chicago: The bus took off before passengers were seated (like other cities) and no signs of routes were found inside (unlike other cities).

The WMC Action News 5 digital team researched routes for more than an hour before we took our first bus ride; without the help of the Internet-related resources we would have been completely lost. We wondered for those without computer or smartphone access, how did they find this information?

According to passengers on our bus you could find everything you needed at the North Terminal, which was in the direction we were headed.

"We have three transit centers," said MATA spokesperson Alison Burton. "At each location, we have trained customer service specialists to provide one-on-one assistance with route and schedule information. We operate a call center with information specialists available to give detailed assistance Monday [through] Saturday. The number is 901-274-6282 (MATA)."

After hitting the North Terminal, we rode the route back to Overton Square. It took us between 20 and 30 minutes to get from Midtown to Downtown, which we thought was not a bad deal.

Overall, our team was impressed with the route. The friendly driver proved to be more than accommodating with helping those who needed handicap access, and all the passengers were respectful to one another other in regards to space and phone usage.

The only problem we encountered with the system on this day was trying to find the stop and getting familiar with the route. Burton says MATA continues to work to make stops better.

"We are currently making improvements with the shelters. Over the past six months, 40 new shelters have been installed and many have been refurbished. We have a 5-year plan to replace all shelters," she said explaining a small part of their capital improvement program.

But some Car-Free Memphis participants had different problems.

"Sure there have been instances when the bus was on time, but there is no need for me or any other passenger to have to wait 10 to 15 minutes on the bus or watch the bus drive away 5 to 10 minutes early," wrote Spencer on his blog for Car-Free Memphis.

To which Burton says that MATA would like for all buses to be on time, but traffic and other events are beyond their control.

The WMC Action News 5 digital team knows we only took one short route, and we are looking in the upcoming months to dig deeper into public transit, providing more answers to those who have never taken the bus before. But to circle back to beginning, we are glad to report that on our ride this route was not inconvenient, unreliable, or unsafe.


Ashli Blow and Nic Harris wrote this piece for WMC Action News 5's Short Social Stories series after #CarFreeMemphis started conversation on social media in the Memphis network. Our series topic for April was about challenges. Read more about our series here.


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