It's not uncommon to see an empty trolley barreling down the Riverfront Loop or Madison Avenue Line. But, despite appearances, trolley ridership is at an all-time high.
This 2013 fiscal year, the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) trolley system has set a ridership record, bringing in a 6.1 percent increase over the last fiscal year's total.
That's good news for Madison Avenue business owners, who for years in the early 2000s, complained about lost business due to MATA's six-year construction of the Madison line. The other two trolley lines have been in business since 1993.
MATA spokesperson Allison Burton attributes the increased ridership to the public accessibility the trolley and bus systems provide. Local residents who frequently use the bus system can transfer over to the trolleys by using the same pass.
Burton said this accessibility has been especially helpful to manage activity in the downtown area on special event nights. The trolleys provide easy access through the hustle and bustle of hectic Memphis festivals and have proven handy during the Grizzlies' NBA playoff season.
"When people are downtown for a special occasion, they want to make the trolley a part of the event," Burton said.
The trolley routes have recently undergone changes to improve efficiency and make traveling easier. Transportation planning firm Nelson\Nygaard came up with a short-range transit plan, which included what they believed to be the best course of action. The team checked every trolley route and the business each line receives. After concluding that the MATA trolley system is an extremely efficient service overall, the team introduced their suggestions in order to keep up the standard of service.
Suggestions included modifying operating hours, adjusting routes, and offering more trips to the public. Nelson\Nygaard believes these changes will allow the trolley lines to establish a better identity and distinguish themselves as an important mode of transportation for locals. Their suggestions are still being considered by the MATA board.
Taking these efficiency recommendations into account, Burton believes trolley use will continue to increase. The proposed changes could allow people to incorporate the trolley more in their everyday routine, she said.
When asked if the recent trolley success might provide an opportunity to continue with plans to expand the Madison Avenue Line, Burton said it's still a consideration.
"It would take a lot of local support and participation, but we believe it could do a lot of good for our community. It's still on our radar," Burton said.