Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Free Trolley Rides!

MATA Offers Free Trolley Rides This Week
TOM WILEMON | The Daily News

People can ride the trolley system for free from Wednesday to Sunday as the Memphis Area Transit Authority celebrates the 16th anniversary of bringing the vintage street cars to Memphis.

MATA is offering the deal during the same time frame as Africa in April, the Southern Hot Wing Contest and Festival and the opening of the Memphis Farmers Market.

“The trolley began on April 29, 1993,” said Alison Burton, director of marketing and customer service for MATA. “The last celebration that we had was at the 10-year mark. This year, we’re going to offer free rides. We usually do it during a lunch period, but we’ve elected to do it all day Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and also on Sunday. There are a number of exciting events going on Downtown this weekend as well. Hopefully, this will add to what people already have planned to do.”

Tourism business

More than a million people a year take a ride on the trolley system, but not enough of them are city residents, Burton said. MATA wants more Memphians to try out the system as it seeks to achieve a ridership of 1.5 million.

“People in Memphis will send their family members and guests to ride, but they never experience it,” Burton said. “This is why we’re having it during this long period of time to really encourage local Memphians to come out and experience the trolley.”

The trolley system was installed for around $30 million, Burton said. It started out with six street cars on Main Street. It now has 20 street cars after adding the Riverfront Loop in 1997 and the Madison Line in 2004.

“They are authentic vintage vehicles,” she said. “There are two in the system that are replicas, but I can’t tell them apart.”

MATA acquired the vintage streetcars from New Orleans, Australia, Portugal and other places, then restored them.

Something to remember

Although the system has been in place for only 16 years, the trolleys have become one of the city’s defining images. International film crews are taking footage of them this month.

“There was a film crew in from Sweden this weekend,” Burton said. “There’s one coming in this week from Germany to film. Almost always during this time of the year we receive numerous requests for trolleys. There’s an Israeli version of ‘American Idol.’ They are filming the trolleys this week.”

Antonello Ghezzi used a camcorder Monday morning to capture memories of his vacation to Memphis. Robert Portioli, his traveling buddy, said they had mailed post cards of the trolley cars back to friends in Milan, Italy.

“We like this trolley because they are old style,” Portioli said. “The atmosphere of the city is characterized by that kind of things. We’ve seen Beale Street yesterday. We were fascinated by all the clubs playing live music. It was something we never experienced anywhere. The trolley is part of what we like in the city.”

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