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CARTA Actively Pursuing Grants to Drive Change; Challenges Plague CARTA GO

Team brainstorming grant strategies.

CARTA Actively Pursuing Grants to Drive Change; Challenges Plague CARTA GO

Grants to Finance Change

In Chattanooga, it was evident during the Chattanooga Area Regional Transit Authority’s (CARTA) board of directors’ April meeting that new president and CEO Charles Frazier aims to bring fundamental changes to CARTA’s network. However, his first priority will be securing grants to finance the research required for these changes.

Charles Frazier revealed that Chattanooga is among the top 10 finalists for the highly competitive Recompete Implementation grant. The grant is intended to help grow more reliable CARTA services in South Chattanooga and East Chattanooga. The aim of this economic development project is to enhance workforce development opportunities for unemployed and underemployed individuals residing in these two areas. According to reports on Mayor Tim Kelly’s website, the median household income in these areas is roughly $10,000 less annually compared to the rest of the city.

The federal grant could provide up to $50 million for the proposed changes, and as a finalist, Chattanooga has already received $500,000 towards the initiative. Furthermore, CARTA is actively seeking two U.S. Department of Energy grants, collaborating with partners across the city and across the country, including UTC and EPB. These include a $3.3 million energy optimization grant won in 2018 and a $10.2 million grant secured in 2020 for artificial intelligence-designed routes using a mixed fleet.

CARTA GO Faces Challenges

Even as the popular door-to-door, on-demand CARTA GO program continues to grow without CARTA’s marketing or advertising, it’s no secret that the program has been losing money and creating frustration for both drivers and riders. According to CARTA General Manager of Planning and Grants, Philip Pugliese, the service is beginning to slow down as it nears capacity.

Mr. Frazier explained that while the idea behind CARTA GO program – launched without much publicity in fall 2022 – is solid, it needs some fine-tuning before any significant expansion. He highlighted several issues, including problems with the GO’s software, an overly large service zone, and the program’s habit of drawing riders away from the efficient Eastgate-Hamilton Place Route 4. He encouraged CARTA to plan ahead for hiring drivers and purchasing buses before the program gains many more passengers. A detailed review of CARTA GO is planned for in June.

Free Summer Service

In partnership with the Chattanooga Public Library, Mr. Frazier announced that CARTA will offer free bus service for students from kindergarten through to 12th grade this June and July, allowing them to visit libraries, museums, and other educational spots around the city. Children under 11 years old may also travel free with one companion. A similar program is planned in collaboration with the Chattanooga Office of New Americans.

Hamilton County resident and CARTA rider, Leamon Randall, suggested before the board to establish a bus rapid transit route along Broad Street, stretching from the Tennessee Aquarium to the Incline, passing the new Lookouts stadium. He believes it could promote public transit to the upper- and middle-class families who will live, work, and shop in new apartments and retail space built around the new stadium.

Mr. Randall suggested a park-and-ride initiative, loading stations on the median or in center lanes, with buses every 10 minutes. He expressed the opinion that bus rapid transit using dedicated lanes could help reduce downtown traffic, offering a more feasible and efficient solution than light rail transit. “This is something CARTA can deliver,” Mr. Randall stated, adding that CARTA has the potential to make Chattanooga even better.

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