Knoxville Station Transit Center, Knoxvillle, September 2022
(Ed. Note: Today’s article is written by guest writer Heather Ryerson.)
Even if you are not a public transit patron, I encourage you to read on. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Belinda Woodiel-Brill, Director of Planning and Public Information, to discuss the current state of KAT and what the future holds. I was encouraged and surprised at all there was to learn.
Earlier this summer, KAT (Knoxville Area Transit) announced it would be reducing route frequencies on some routes and potentially cancelling some routes due to a workforce shortage. They are currently short about 50 drivers affecting every route, every day.
In July, they held a community meeting to talk with their customers and determine how the proposed changes would affect the community. After listening to feedback, they were able to develop a plan that would have the least negative impact possible on those who daily rely on public transit for keeping employment, getting groceries, and traveling to necessary appointments.
Covid had a drastic impact on all of us and KAT was no exception. They had to reduce service to only 10 customers at a time and due to lack of drivers, had to adjust and cancel routes in 2020. As we learned more and put in safety measures, the KAT team rallied and service resumed on a more regular schedule. However, 2 years later, they still have not been able to operate on pre-Covid levels leading to the needed adjustments to service.
By the first of August this year, they announced the service reductions and route changes along with a partnership with Knox County CAC Transit who will transport customers who have to travel at times KAT is no longer providing services. These changes went into effect on Aug. 29 and so far, they are going well. The hope is this is a temporary change and they want to get enough drivers hired to get back up to full service again as soon as possible.
They are already increasing recruitment efforts and working to raise hourly rates, but Belinda wants those who may be interested in a career with KAT to know that there are also outstanding benefits to working with KAT, like great health insurance, for example. Everyone I met in the station was exceptionally friendly and helpful making the environment one that felt positive overall.
Belinda believes that her job is to make people’s lives easier. One way they are doing that is by using the Transit app. This app can be used to track buses and plan your routes. Coming this fall, you will be able access mobile ticketing via the app. Currently, you must use cash or purchase a card at the terminal. The app will allow people to more easily pay for their service without having to go to the terminal or carry cash, although those services will continue. This app is also used in many cities worldwide, making it a useful tool for anyone traveling to have on hand.
I enjoyed my tour of the terminal and hearing about their efforts at curbing their own carbon footprint. They are Knoxville’s first LEED certified government building. They also have hybrid buses and 12 fully electric buses at present with others on order and funding for even more. The supply chain slow down is affecting their ability to get those new buses. I was impressed by the green roofs, solar panels and geothermal cells that help them reduce electricity costs as well.
I also learned that a day pass is only $2 and they provide service to UT to help navigate game day traffic. I think that is well worth the cost. Check out the service schedule here!
If you or someone you know is interested in working with KAT, head to their website for more information. Drivers must be over 21 and have a CDL license. If you do not have that, they will provide support for you as you work to get the license.
You can find current and helpful information on their social media pages here and here.