I had read about Memphis Area Transit Authority President/General Manager William Hudson, Jr.’s beginnings in public transportation before going to visit MATA, but I had to ask him about it when we sat down to talk about what’s happening at the Memphis agency.
It was when he was little, riding the bus, that he watched the bus drivers and thought, I can do that. “Back then I didn’t know it was public transportation, it was just transportation,” he says. “We had to ride the bus but riding the bus was really fun.”
Hudson continues, “Back in those days it was segregated and we had a certain day to ride the bus.
“I never have forgotten it; we were riding the bus to the zoo and there was a white section and a black section and we got a little too close to the white section and so the driver pulled us off and I think the thing we were more concerned about was not so much them pulling us off, but the fact of being afraid of what our mother was going to say,” he says. “We had to walk all the way back.”
The transit authority was always in the back of his mind, Hudson says, and when he and several friends heard they were hiring, they went and put in applications. “We did and at that point I had no idea. No idea I would get an opportunity to drive a bus.”
Hudson drove a bus for 13 years and driving him to continue on was the people. “I like people,” he says of the people he was serving and those that were around him, “dedicated to providing the kind of service we’ve never really had money to provide,” he says.
His career started as a bus driver, and then he began to work through the various departments: scheduling, customer service, parts and maintenance and then ended up in operations. “I find that’s where I really wanted to be; so I’ve been in ops since, all the way up until I became general manger in ’93,” he says.
After working up through the different departments, he knows a little bit about all of it. “I can give some input in to everything but not being the master of any,” he says with a smile. “When you’ve been in the battlefield and they know you’ve been there, there’s an added respect.
“I’ve always allowed my people to do their jobs, I don’t interfere with it in that sense, but I’m always there for counseling, support or advice.”
Spending an entire career in Memphis, he says the experiences and relationships with the community and local government has been beneficial. “I know a lot of the decision makers,” Hudson explains. “That really helps us and with MATA not having a dedicated funding source, we have to go to the city and the state and Feds for our capital and in some cases operating, they can support that.”
He says the reason he’s able to do that is because of the staff, which also has longevity at the agency. Hudson rattles off a list of staff that has been with the agency, all for around 20 years.
“They become experienced and they become more valuable, and if they weren’t good people, they wouldn’t stick around; you wouldn’t allow it,” Hudson says. “So it makes your job easier. And when the turnover does come – the retirement – we try to have succession planning in place.”
Recently, the director of rail, Ms. Harris, retired and the person that took her place had been her assistant for five or six years, so he was able to step right in to the position. “And now we have another young lady working, and he’s training her so he can have a good assistant. If something happens and he leaves, then we have somebody to take over.
“Same thing in paratransit. The manager, James, has been here 35 years, Linda’s been here 10, 12, and she’s been his understudy,” Hudson says. “He said he may retire at the end of this year and she’ll be ready to step right in, so we’re pretty well prepared.
“There’s no way we’ll be able to replace the experience he has when he walks out, but she’ll get it. She’ll get it and that’s the way it works.”