Insider Insight: In Public Transit, Innovation is for the End User

Oct. 3, 2023
Innovation can be challenging and frustrating, but it is a necessary tool to ensure greater mobility for all.

One of the most valuable tools any public service organization can use is research. It can serve as the basis for new ideas and innovation, as well confirming the needs for the same new ideas and innovation. In 2019, the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) decided to lean into innovation to maximize the efficiency of our services. However, before jumping in head first, the agency leadership wanted to learn more about the perceptions of the communities within our service area and how they felt about MATA, its services and what the mobility challenges were in those communities.

Would they be open to change after so many years of traditional services? Not only did those findings confirm that we were on the right track, but they also indicated that our riders would warmly welcome innovation with support where needed. As it turned out, it was not a bad thing.

Innovation is not just about change, but more about making people’s lives better. Digitizing key processes without compromising customer service and the human touch allows us to maintain our values, but also track data around our vehicles, trips taken and overall rider experience. Innovation helps us to plan and bolster our services and effectiveness. In the end, the rider wins.

We took the feedback to heart and implemented several services, including the GO901 mobile app, which allows riders to purchase tickets and track rides from their devices. Recently, we added another innovative option for our riders, our GO901 Smart Card and Ticket Vending Machines.

For the first time, riders no longer must rely on cash to pay for rides onboard our vehicles. All they need is their GO901 Smart Card or GO901 Mobile App to scan our validators. They can also use the ticket vending machines in our transit centers to secure reusable cards and purchase ride passes as needed.

The GO901 Smart Card allows for a number of vital benefits, saves the rider time with the “tap and go” card feature or a quick scan of their app, eliminates any safety risks of having to carry cash and keeps their payments and transactions in one place via a personalized account and card. In just three weeks, more than 5,400 existing riders have secured GO901 Smart Cards and we are receiving positive feedback from riders about moving into the future with a smoother process. Using ticket purchases, trip destination data and other trends analysis, we will boost our intelligence to make better informed decisions regarding public transit and mobility in the mid-South.

The GO901 Smart Card and Ticket Vending Machine launch is only the first phase of strategy to achieve our goal to ensure public transit is not a last resort, but a necessary component to create a vibrant and forward-moving community.

Phase II of the rollout will encompass leaning on the corporate community to expand our latest offerings. Beginning in 2024, we will partner with corporations to help bridge the gap of transportation needs of employers, social and community services providers. We are now imagining the impact we can make on the business community and the workforce when corporations can add bus passes to their compensation packages.

In public service work, access matters. Phase III will move the GO901 Smart Cards into a network of nearly 300 local retailers. When you consider the Memphis metro area is listed as a top 10 car-dependent city, this is an opportunity to attract and engage residents who may never visit transit centers, never use public transportation or those who have vehicles of their own, but view public transit as a viable option for commuting. Eliminating those barriers for both current and potential riders to use MATA is what will truly modernize public transit in Greater Memphis.

Innovation can be challenging and frustrating, but it is a necessary tool to achieve our result–greater mobility for all. We are proud we have a community and network of supporters, locally, statewide and nationally behind us to help move the needle. We are looking forward to the future.


Gary Rosenfeld is chief executive officer of Memphis Area Transit Authority.

About the Author

Gary Rosenfeld | CEO, Memphis Area Transit Authority

Gary Rosenfeld is the chief executive officer of the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA). MATA provides bus, rail, paratransit and other transit services for the Greater Memphis area. Rosenfeld’s main focus is to rebuild the transit system into a world class mass transit provider while implementing new transit innovations and restarting the vintage trolley car system.

Rosenfeld has more than 30 years of experience in transit as an executive, strategist and advisor. His most recent experience includes serving as Interim Chief Executive Officer and Chief Administrative Officer at MATA. Prior to joining MATA, he was responsible for the nationally recognized transportation programs at Yosemite National Park.

Some of his major accomplishments during his tenure there include having the first 100 percent diesel electric hybrid transit fleet in the nation, receiving an environmental achievement award from the United States Department of the Interior for reduction in the consumption of petroleum fuel, having 100 percent of the Park’s motor coach fleet and transit fleet meeting ADA requirements and proposed passenger safety requirements, and ensuring that the Park’s Passenger Transportation Program became 100 percent certified as clean diesel and clean idle.