Joplin's Sunshine Lamp Trolley service has won a Federal Transportation Administration award for growth in ridership at a time when other cities are experiencing a decline.
The award was announced last week during a conference of the Missouri Public Transit Association held in Springfield and presented to the city's transportation coordinator, Robert Lolley, on Tuesday by City Council member Taylor Brown.
Lolley said the ridership increased a little more than 3 percent last year over the previous year. The trolley service provided 136,772 rides in the 2015-2016 fiscal year, up from 132,456 rides.
"I think earning this award is a fantastic honor," Lolley said. "It just shows how much we have grown as a city to take something that was only doing 60,000 rides a year, and we're now doing over 100,000 rides a year," he said. "I'm glad the people of Joplin are taking advantage of it."
The city started the trolley system in 2007 with one route in northeast Joplin. Now the trolley operates three routes with hourly service to 60 stops plus curbside pickup that can be arranged within three-quarters of a mile of a trolley stop.
"As a national trend, public transportation ridership was down overall" last year, Lolley said. "Some of the cities like Kansas City saw close to an 8 percent decrease. We were about a 3.2 percent increase. Transportation is something that is definitely a need, especially compared to some other parts of the nation," particularly for access to grocery stores, shopping and medical services.
The city has received a number of requests for expansion of the service, Lolley said. Because of that, the city will look at its options next year.
"The last stops are at 6 p.m., with no service on Sundays," he said, so he has budgeted for a study next year "to allow us to look at all of our operations to see if there is something we can do better. We can look at how we could expand our service or how we could use our assets differently to get more transportation and make it available more the hours people want it."
Sharon Storm is a disabled resident who relies on the trolley, riding it almost every day, she said.
Storm, who uses a wheelchair, said she relies on the trolley to go shopping and for other needs. Without it, "I'd have to stay home because I can't go any place hardly. She praised the system's trolley drivers for helping her to get on and off the trolley in her wheelchair.
Terry Wright, driver supervisor, said the system employs 15 drivers who must constantly ensure the safety of passengers as well as serve the increasing numbers, many of whom need assistance, such as that given Storm, in accessing the trolley.
A new resident of the city, Hank Ussery, rode the trolley on Tuesday. "I'm going to take my driver's license test next week, so I want to learn about the city by taking the trolley" to see the streets and layout, he said.
He is moving from Branson to find year-round work because many Branson jobs are seasonal, he said.
"The mission is to provide safe, reliable and affordable transportation to everyone within the Joplin metro area," Lolley said. He said the drivers, dispatchers, mechanics and other support staff all contribute to that effort. "It truly takes a team effort."
The city pays half the cost of operating the service and the other half is paid by the federal transportation division.
The service also operates MAPS, which offers curb-to-curb van service Monday through Saturday.
How to ride
The Sunshine Lamp Trolley operates from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Rides are $1 and a monthly trolley pass provides unlimited rides for $30. Half-fare passes, at $15, are available to people 60 and older, disabled or to those who receive Medicare. Children 12 and younger ride free with a paid adult. Exact change is required to get on the trolley because drivers are not allowed to make change.
For rides or information, call 417-626-8609