Steel-wheeled trolleys will return to the rails later this summer, but no passengers will be in tow, only very heavy bags of sand, as the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) will begin testing trolleys in anticipation of restarting the service by the end of the year.
At least, that is the goal, according to the interim CEO of MATA Gary Rosenfeld, who talked to a group of individuals about the state of public transit in Memphis yesterday at a Sierra Club meeting.
If all goes as planned in what Rosenfeld refers to as a "fragile process," steel-wheeled trolley service will return first to Main Street, with four trolleys in operation and two as back-ups, followed by Riverside Drive and Madison Avenue.
However, he says each trolley must be verified and tested before going into service.
"If it's not ready and not safe, it's not going to happen," Rosenfeld said. "We're not going to sacrifice safety to meet self-imposed deadlines."
Rosenfeld also talked about the improvements MATA hopes to make over the next few years, like increasing on-time performance rates for the buses, which he reports has risen nearly 30 percent in the last two years.
With the proposed route and schedule changes
set to take effect in early August if approved, Rosenfeld says MATA's on-time performance for fixed-route services, now at 76%, should increase by another 5 percent.
However, MATA's biggest challenge, according to Rosenfeld, is a shortage of funding. He says just as the City of Memphis is underfunded, so is MATA.
Currently, the operating budget for MATA is around $62 million, but in order to best serve Memphis, he says needs an additional $30 million.
"As our funding is right now, we can't plan really well for the future," Rosenfeld said. "If we can secure a source of funding, it makes everything more efficient."
With more funding, Rosenfeld says MATA would be able to increase the frequency of buses, explore more routes, and invest in more buses.
Additionally, operating with no reserves, the budget does not allow for new projects and demonstrations or updating and modernizing the 4,500 bus stops in the city.
Rosenfeld says MATA will be looking to the City Council, who next month will have the opportunity to authorize a public vote on a sales tax surcharge, which could result in more funding for the transit service.
Moving forward Rosenfeld hopes to make MATA's services easier to use, closer to necessities, and more responsive, while creating more equity for riders.
"Memphis deserves great transit," Rosenfeld said. "We need dedicated funding, so we can act like a real transit service."