CARTA Aggressively Going After Grants To Implement Change; CARTA GO Has Woes

  • Thursday, April 18, 2024
  • Hannah Campbell

It was evident at the April meeting of the Chattanooga Area Regional Transit Authority’s board of directors that new president and CEO Charles Frazier will bring fundamental changes to CARTA’s network, but first he will focus on winning grants to fund the research.

Mr. Frazier said the city of Chattanooga is a top 10 finalist for the Recompete Implementation grant to grow more reliable CARTA service in South Chattanooga and East Chattanooga. The economic development project would focus on workforce development for unemployed and underemployed people living in those two areas. An announcement on Mayor Tim Kelly’s website says that the median household income there is about $10,000 less annually than in the rest of the city.

The federal grant would provide up to $50 million. As a finalist, Chattanooga has already won $500,000 toward the project.

CARTA continues to work through two U.S. Department of Energy grants with multiple partners across the city and the country, including UTC and EPB.

A $3.3 million energy optimization grant was awarded in 2018 to fund a project to save as much as seven percent in energy costs. A $10.2-million grant was awarded in 2020 for artificial intelligence-designed routes using a mixed fleet.

CARTA GO

Though the on-demand, door-to-door program CARTA GO has continued to grow in popularity naturally without marketing or advertising from CARTA, it’s been no secret in recent months that the program is losing money and also frustrating drivers and riders.

“It is starting to taper off as we reach our capacity,” said CARTA General Manager of Planning and Grants Philip Pugliese.

Mr. Frazier told board members that the service, which launched without fanfare in fall 2022, is a good idea, but that it needs attention before a big roll-out. He said there are problems with GO’s software, the service zone is too large, and it steals riders from the efficient Eastgate-Hamilton Place Route 4. He said CARTA must plan ahead to hire drivers and buy buses before GO acquires many more passengers.

The board will take a “deep dive” into GO in June, he said.

Free Summer Service

In partnership with the Chattanooga Public Library, Mr. Frazier said CARTA will offer free bus service for students in kindergarten through 12th grade this June and July to libraries, museums and other educational spots around town. One companion of children younger than 11 years old may ride free, too. CARTA will offer a similar program in partnership with the Chattanooga Office of New Americans.

“We’re really excited to provide this opportunity for the kids over the summer,” Mr. Frazier said.

Mr. Frazier is meeting with each City Council and County Commission representative to discuss each district’s needs. He recently met with Jenny Hill of District 2 and Carol Berz of District 6.

Lookouts Stadium Sparks Public Ideas

Hamilton County resident and CARTA rider Leamon Randall spoke before the board to request a bus rapid transit route along Broad Street from the Tennessee Aquarium to the Incline, by way of the new Lookouts stadium.

“I think this could bring about a paradigm shift in Chattanooga,” Mr. Randall said, by promoting public transit to the upper- and middle-class families who will live, work and shop in new apartments, office and retail space that will be built around the new stadium.

“People, if they wanted to, could become a one-car household, or a no-car household,” he said.

“The political capital is there right now,” he said, suggesting a motto tying the city’s past at Lookout Mountain to its future at the riverfront.

He suggested a park-and-ride, loading stations on the median or in center lanes, and running buses every 10 minutes.

He said bus rapid transit using its own dedicated lanes would reduce traffic downtown without the infrastructure of light rail transit.

“We’re really good at building roads here in America,” he said, not rail tracks or trains, he said.

“I think this is something that CARTA can accomplish,” Mr. Randall said. “I think CARTA makes Chattanooga better and I think it would make it better still,” he said.

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