MATA upgrades trolley station lifts to better serve riders

Posted on March 19, 2012

MATA's ADA-compliant inbound Madison Avenue Trolley station at Danny Thomas Blvd. Photo courtesy MATA.
MATA's ADA-compliant inbound Madison Avenue Trolley station at Danny Thomas Blvd. Photo courtesy MATA.
The Memphis (Tenn.) Area Transit Authority (MATA) system transports nearly 40,000 users each day. One of its feature attractions is the MATA Trolley, a heritage streetcar system which provides visitors and locals alike with a nostalgic trip to some of downtown Memphis’ most notable attractions and a breathtaking view of the Mississippi riverfront.

MATA relies on 34 wheelchair lifts to provide ADA-compliant access to each trolley station. Over the years, the units became obsolete and difficult to maintain, causing breakdowns in operation. Realizing the potential impacts such breakdowns could have on customer service, MATA recently underwent a major modernization project to unify each wheelchair lift and bring the entire system up to full ADA compliance.

Obsolescence: A Factor From Day One
MATA has faced challenges maintaining its lifts beginning with the Main Street line in 1993. The wheelchair lifts for the very first stations were manufactured by a contractor on a one-time basis. Due to the fact that the lifts and parts were never manufactured again, replacing malfunctioning and worn-out parts became costly and difficult. MATA experienced a similar problem soon after its final Madison Avenue Trolley stations were completed in 2004, when the lift manufacturer for the Madison Avenue station lifts went out of business. 

“We faced a difficult situation where all of our lifts were obsolete,” said Eli Williams, director of trolley rail maintenance for MATA. “We knew down the line as parts wore out, lifts at some stations would become unreliable and worse still, lifts at others would possibly be taken completely out of service.”

Upgrading for ADA Compliance and Customer Satisfaction
In 2009, MATA awarded the initial contract for equipment provided by KONE Inc., a global elevator and escalator solutions provider who had been servicing the units, with the task of replacing each of the 34 units to better service its customers. 

KONE recommended Inclinator’s SpectraLift, a fiberglass solution designed for outdoors that met several of MATA’s top concerns. The lift’s platform sides and floor are comprised of a single molded unit, which reduces operational noise. Additionally, its fiberglass construction prevents rust and corrosion, as well as allows MATA to easily power wash the units when necessary.

The solution also allowed MATA to unify each station’s aesthetics throughout the system. Previously, the lifts for two of the three system lines featured a different color and architectural scheme. The SpectraLift solution allowed MATA to choose a unified custom color and match the architectural finish of the existing trolley stations.

Another top concern for MATA was bringing the system to full ADA compliance as quickly as possible. KONE and MATA worked to triage the construction schedule according to each lift’s functionality. Lifts which were completely out of service were scheduled for replacement first, followed by units which were malfunctioning but still in service. 

Construction began in 2010 with two sets of four units on the Main Street Line. The second phase included 12 installations and was completed in December 2011. The final phase of the project includes 14 remaining lifts and is expected to be completed in May 2012.

Updating each station for ADA-compliance was difficult given that no two construction sites were exactly alike. Each station needed to be surveyed for the necessary approach width, flat landing area at the top and bottom of the lift, ramp angle and cross slope on the approach to meet ADA standards. KONE worked with Barnes and Bower, the general contractor, to ensure each unit integrated seamlessly with the platform design.

“The project demanded precision to match the varying heights at each station,” said Mike Baker, Senior Sales Representative at KONE. “The Madison Avenue stations each had equipment pits which we worked closely with the general contractor to chip out additional concrete and get the right pit depth.”

The Finish Line
With 14 lifts to go, MATA is extremely happy with the way the project has gone, the design of the lifts and how the platforms blend in with the existing station architecture. 
“Upgrading the lifts has been a win-win for all involved,” said William Hudson, Jr. president/GM of MATA. “Our passengers are enjoying user-friendly lifts and reduced boarding times and MATA is enjoying more economical maintenance.”

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