Friday, September 26, 2014

Public Transportation Information Forum

Great public event gave MATA riders a forum to speak out about service problems

By Tim Wheat

MATA operator
The new MATA General Manager, Ron Garrison came to the Public Transportation Information Forum today at the Memphis Main Public Library. Citizens for Better Service Chairman Johnnie Mosley and Betty Anderson, Chair of the Memphis Transportation Advisory Committee facilitated the four hour forum.

“We will have better transportation in Memphis, a better M-A-T-A,” said Rep. Barbara Cooper the state representative for much of memphis. “Lets look at options to consider for our city that will change things for the unemployed and underemployed.”

Ron Garrison and Rep. Cooper sat on the panel discussion with the MATA Assistant General Manager, Tom Fox and Carlos McCloud of the Tennessee Department of Transportation. The panel covered funding and finance issues for Memphis public transportation. Tom Fox pointed out that MATA is a nonprofit and only 20% of the necessary operating funds comes from the farebox, most of the funding is public money.

The Forum panel
Following the panel discussion, Darryl Covington covered the new MATA Code of Conduct for riders of the Memphis public transit system. There were no surprises; you cannot do things that are illegal on the bus. The crowd however saw the inequity of the code and mentioned many things that bus operators did that were in conflict with the Code.

Many people told of long waits; some spent four hours on the bus. Others told about how hard it is to get MATA on the phone and when they did, there was poor customer service. Mr. Covington did recognise that MATA just does not answer the phone at many times and there is no communication with customers. Sometimes this lack of communication may cause unsafe conditions for MATA users. He did give a phone number that he felt may be more effective “after-hours” when MATA is still serving the public, but MATA agents and administration are absent. Mr. Covington said to call: 901-522-7129 for MATAplus issues. Riders were skeptical that this new phone number would be any different than the other MATA phone numbers.

At noon, Ms Niketa Reed dealt with the topic of customer service. She gave a Powerpoint presentation where she spoke about the ideals of good customer service, but did not relate those ideals to the practice and policy of MATA. I was interested that she understood the importance of “Follow-up” for good customer service and clearly recognized that MATA did not follow-up at all. Her only solution was that they are getting new software that will help them track complaints and reference callers issues. I remain hopeful like many in the audience but Betty Anderson pointed out that the major problem at MATA was attitude. I believe that the new software will do little to change the attitude of constructive change for the transportation system.

Front of the library.
During the customer service segment of the forum, we learned that MATA operators are in the habit of putting bricks on the ramps to keep an alarm from going off when the ramp is not completely stored. A rider at the meeting had run into a brick when she got on the bus on her way to the forum.

John Langcaster explained how MATA selected the various bus routes and MATA had an “Out of Service” bus for people to see and get in. A ten-year veteran bus operator came with the bus and answered questions as the public boarded the bus.