Getting Around Memphis: Guide to Public Transportation

Here's How to Get Around Memphis by Public Transportation

Memphis TN trolley

 Carl Wycoff/ flickr 

Memphis is a spread out city. There are different neighborhoods that have must-see sites that aren't walkable from one to another. Most locals and tourists choose to drive their cars around the city or use car sharing services like Uber and Lyft. However, there is MATA, Memphis' public transportation provider, that can get you around the city cheaply if you have patience.

MATA consists of 47 bus routes and three trolley lines. The trolley line runs on a historic track through downtown Memphis. The bus routes go all over the city from downtown to the suburbs. While the lines can be hard to navigate, MATA has an easy-to-use trip planning service on its website to help you figure out where to go. Public transportation is cheap and energy efficient, meaning you will help your wallet and the environment by using it.

How to Ride the MATA Buses

There are 47 bus routes that will take you anywhere you need to go. The buses are especially helpful in getting you from one neighborhood to another.

  • The first step to riding the buses is to figure out where you are going. You can use MATA traveler, the government's official trip planning tool online. It's easy; you just put in your starting point and your destination, and it will tell you where to go. You can also use Google Maps. If you prefer to talk to a customer service provider call MATA at (901) 274-6282.
  • Most Memphis buses run from sunrise to sunset (around 5 am to 7 pm.) Note: There is no public transportation in the evening. Each route has a different timetable so check the schedule before your journey.
  • The easiest way to buy a bus ticket is on a bus or trolley. YOU MUST HAVE CORRECT CHANGE. It costs $1 for a regular ticket, and $0.50 for a senior citizen.
  • If you are planning on using the bus throughout your trip consider buying a FastPass. It costs $3.50 for unlimited trips for one day. You can buy an unlimited 7-day pass for $16.00.
  • When you are waiting for your bus make sure to get there early (MATA recommends 10 minutes!) You can track the bus' progress through, a website that shows where your bus is in real time.
  • When you are boarding the bus stand at the curb side. Stand a few feet away when the bus approaches.
  • There are bike racks on all MATA buses. Just make sure to alert your driver before you board and depart so he and she can help you.
  • Keep an eye on your belongings at all times especially when the bus is crowded.

Riding the MATA Trolley

MATA runs three trolley lines throughout downtown Memphis. The line that goes down Main Street is historic. You'll be riding an authentic, vintage trolley car with antique light fixtures, hand-crafted wood carvings, and more. NOTE: Not all the trolleys are historic. Some are modern.

  • The trolleys run past some of Memphis' greatest attractions including Beale Street, National Civil Rights Museum, and the Peabody Hotel with its red-carpet walking ducks.
  • The trolleys run every twenty or thirty minutes. The trolley also gets delayed or re-routed because of construction. The MATA website will alert you to these obstructions.
  • Tickets are $1.00 for a regular ticket and $0.50 for a reduced fare ticket. You can buy a day pass for $2.00 and get on and off as many times as you desire.

Taxis and Car Shares

  • Memphis taxis are hard to flag down. While some are available on the street, it's safer to order from a provider such as Bluff City Taxis.
  • A more efficient and cheaper option is to use Uber or Lyft. These services are reliable in Memphis—there are many cars available all the time—and affordable. You can even choose to share with other people and split the cost. This is an especially good option for evening when public transportation shuts down.

Renting a Car

  • Memphis has many car rental places. Car rentals are affordable, and it's easy to have a car in the city. Most hotels have their own parking, and all attractions have places you can park.
  • A great option is to rent a car at the airport. All the major car rental companies are there: Enterprise, Avis, Alamo, Budget, Hertz, etc.

Getting to the Airport

Getting to the airport by public transportation is tricky and might take you awhile. It's best to take a car-sharing service like Uber or Lyft. However, if you want to travel the most economical way MATA is the option for you.

  • Memphis International Airport has a public bus stop located in front of Terminal C at the baggage claim level. There is a MATA sign signaling where the buses drop off and pick up passengers.
  • Bus #64 is the bus that goes to and from the airport. It picks up passengers every hour Monday through Friday from roughly 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Check the schedule on the MATA website (listed above.)

Riding a Bike Around Memphis

Memphis is one of the best cities for biking with over 60 miles of designated bike paths. You can get from downtown Memphis to the suburbs, for example, by biking through a beautiful park. You won't even be near cars or on public roads!

  • You can find a comprehensive bike math on the Memphis Travel website. You can download it for free onto your smartphone or print off a hard version.
  • Memphis has a bike share program named Explore Bike Share. There are 80 stations where you can rent bikes and drop them off. There are other rental places around the city. Find a list here.
  • One of the most popular bike paths in Memphis is the 10.5-mile Shelby Farms Greenline that connects this large urban park to midtown Memphis. You can bike past buffalo herds, bars, ponds, and more.
  • If you're in downtown Memphis one of the highlights is the Big River Crossing. It's a bridge that goes over the Mississippi River so you are biking from downtown Memphis to Arkansas.
  • In recent years biking has become much more popular meaning cars are used to watching out for bikers even when there is no official bike lane. Still, you should be careful especially when biking early in the morning or at night. Wear bright colors and use your bike lights. Always wear a helmut.

Tips for Getting Around Memphis

  • Public transportation shuts down at night
  • Show up to buses 10 minutes early and track the progress through the website.
  • Trolleys are fun to ride downtown but not efficient if there is construction or traffic.
  • Ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft are easy to use in Memphis and readily available.
  • If you like to bike, you're visiting the right place. Explore the city by bike, and the journey will be as fun as the destination.