Knoxville Area Transit's "KAT Reimagined" plan passed on Wednesday. The plan will phase out the free downtown trolley system, and include a downtown connector with a possible fare.

KAT Reimagined plan passes, will phase out downtown trolleys

bizgrrl's picture

Wow. Guess they can't get the

Wow. Guess they can't get the necessary funding. I thought the KAT trolleys were a great f3ature for downtown. I've never ridden a trolley in Knoxville and don't get downtown a lot. I rode one in downtown New Orleans. It was very beneficial for getting around.

Maybe the should try harder to get federal funding.

fischbobber's picture


I had the opportunity to ride a trolley, meet some passengers, and talk to a bus driver about what they do, what they bring to the city, how they would integrate with the new stadium , who uses them when and what they bring our city. Getting rid of these trolleys, in this manner, is possibly the worst idea I've seen come from city government since thinking Teaberry without pedestrian infrastructure was a good idea. I sincerely hope this idea is shelved. At the very least it will take a full time shuttle from Summit Towers down the hill to the bus stop. In twenty minutes, on a full loop, I counted eighteen Summit Hill passengers and the ones I talked to were in agreement that this service is vital. This is a bad decision that I will be attempting to change over the next few weeks.

This is the kind of move that can kill a downtown stadium. We've gone from offering a festive downtown experience that is fun for kids, to an institutionalized, efficient experience lacking purpose and outcome. Where is the plan to serve all the handicapped? The people I saw mostly wouldn't be able to make the climb from the bus stop to Summit Towers. What are we doing to them? Forcing the poor to become shut-ins is not the mark of great government leadership.

fischbobber's picture

Update on previous post

It will now cost 2 dollars to take a lyft from the front door of Summit Hill Tower to get to the bus stop at the bottom of a hill that is obviously to dangerous a walk for about half the passengers I witnessed. That's twelve dollars a week for some of our most economically challenged passengers to get to the bus service they will now be offered, which is no longer free, as I understand it. I'm going out later today to ride the buses to try to figure this stuff out. It's not shaping up to be a very good idea.

(Yes, I understand how to design routes. That's what we do at UPS, or in my case, did.)

Most people don't ride the bus because they're well to do and eccentric people lovers. Most want efficient, economical transportation.

fischbobber's picture

Last couple days....

Several weeks ago Vivian Shipe asked me for help in responding to the KAT Reimagined process. I honestly told her I knew nothing about KAT and I was frankly worn out from advocating for a twentieth century covid response. Thus far, our county has dealt with a covid response that one must go back to the black death response in the dark ages to find. Let'em and die and divvy up their inheritance. Great for developers. Especially in really red areas with a high percentage of churchgoers. They were really easy to kill and developers were able to keep acquisition costs down for property. No telling what everything would be worth if the land owners had lived, but I digress. At this point, anecdotal evidence seems to be on the wane and my gut instinct tells me we will see another flattening of cases next week and should see them fall by the week after. The week after's numbers are where we are now. I'm probably putting too much emphasis on the Sullivan County wastewater numbers in the analysis of what's going on, but if all you have is a hammer, everything's a nail. It looks like this is a spike and drop covid surge. The speed at which covid is now moving through this community is astounding. If covid keeps getting faster, by the time we figure out it's here, it's moving out. It will always hit Knoxville harder than than it hits other communities and eventually people will get tired of coming here for a pleasant visit and leaving sick, but that's what happens when your county mayor lies about the efficacy and importance of vaccines. You can condition people to make stupid decisions, and the decision to avoid vaccination is a stupid decision.

So, after a recent luncheon, when Hubert Smith was trying to explain some or the problems he saw with the new KAT plan and he saw my eyes glaze and asked, "You got a couple minutes?" I said yes. We got on the Trolley, Green Line and I rode the loop, just to see what was going on.We happened to ride the one time per hour when the trolley went to Summit Hill. I counted, looked and listened. Based on what I saw, I decided to do some more looking, so yesterday I drove my happy ass to Downtown West, parked behind the movie theater, and got on bus eleven for a Knoxville bus riding adventure, and counted, asked questions, looked and listened. I saw more stuff. Enough stuff to convince me that maybe this issue did need input from someone out West who wasn't normally inclined to ride the bus. Perhaps I would be able to help. Our bus system clearly has need, purpose and function. I haven't seen any real cases of anyone doing anything unethical (which, being used to County Government I found relieving) but there is a huge disconnect between what's going on at the route level and whats going on at the planning administration level. That's the sort of thing that can be fixed by everyone getting on the same page.

Now for some first impressions. Ridership was way more than I expected. Way more. Enough to be obvious that this was beyond a neat little feature of our town, it's vital to its function. I didn't see a people issue. That isn't to say none exist, but what I saw was a group of dedicated employees that understood their mission was to serve. I also saw a lot of evidence of those same people being vastly underpaid. Underpaid employees withdraw just like abused employees, but I didn't see signs of abuse, more of frustration. Frankly, a lot of that frustration seemed to stem from a repeated theme I heard of severe, chronic, understaffing. Nobody offered up numbers, there is a great deal of loyalty amoung KAT employees, but universally it was agreed that pay needs to come up. Second, KAT serves a community vastly different than the community of people making decisions for KAT. Summit Tower is a perfect example of that. I rode the trolley during a down time, non-peak hour in the middle of the afternoon on Friday. Eighteen people got on and off the Green Line, most connecting or getting off at Summit Hill. Many with daily purchases of what I took to be essential personal items, food, drugs, soap, toothpaste, that sort of stuff. About half of those folks were handicapped, canes, walkers, obvious struggles to get around. Of the other half, about half appeared to be less physically able due to age or condition, than I. (I'm sixty-four, decent health, horribly out of shape.) On the regular KAT line, I noticed a similar trend, to a lesser degree. I found myself wondering, "What would these people do if this resource is taken away? How could we make it better?" It's important to remember that KAT is not failing in its mission, but a restructuring can't be written in stone. Currently KAT is a vital service for the mere act of existing for certain groups of people. Simply put, KAT is not including those people most dependent, in many cases, in their plans. That needs to change. There needs to be a pause and reflection moment while the City Leaders listen to the Hubert Smiths, Vivian Shipes,m Clyde Andersons and everyone else that is struggling to be heard.

At any rate, I'm going to keep looking at this. I'm going to try to ride the bus several times and try to get a feel for the bigger picture. The system is obviously underfunded. These people need a professional wage. The drivers are not only bus drivers, but front line social workers. They know their riders by name, where they're headed and what their personal issues are. That has value to the community beyond just their value as drivers. I had to wonder how many people on these buses depend on bus rides for social interaction.I had to wonder how many of these riders drivers showed empathy for got that empathy from nowhere else. These sorts of interactions are important to human beings at least at the level of the transportation itself. I'm hoping there is an immediate plan in place for the economically distressed that KAT serves. Getting folks to work on time is important. Being the lifeline for economically and physically challenged to the community is equally, if not more, important. Our system is not broken. We must take care not to break it.

bizgrrl's picture

Wonderful. Thanks for looking

Wonderful. Thanks for looking at this issue. I think bus service is critical to Knoxville as a community.

Years ago I wrecked my car and was dependent on the Knoxville bus service. I rode the bus from the Island Home area to work at U.T. Hospital for about a year. It was a great service and a great experience.

They need to put a higher priority on the bus system. Grants? More money from gas/transportation taxes?

Hah, to add to the challenge, there needs to be a bus service for workers to/from Blount County.

barker's picture


A couple of thoughts on the issues raised in this thread.

KAT has engaged in an extensive public input process that’s lasted longer than a year. It focused on people who use the system, though anyone could weigh in. From that input, they decided to weigh ridership a little more heavily than geographic reach. Serving people with no other transportation options for essential trips (work, for example) was a priority.

One key thing to remember is that the new network is supposed to be revenue-neutral. They could not design a system that would cost more to operate than it currently does. And that’s where the trolley problem comes in.

I know of no transit system in the country that runs on rider revenue alone. KAT uses lots of grants — hardly a Council meeting goes by without an item about KAT grant funding on the agenda — but it’s hard to justify routes that don’t generate any revenue whatsoever. Free trolleys don’t generate any revenue.

The trolleys run three routes, each of them for 13 hours a day on Weekdays and 11 hours on Saturdays. I don’t know the work schedule, but it probably takes at least six drivers per day to staff it. That’s 36 driver shifts per week. Then you have fuel and maintenance costs. All that without a penny of rider revenue. The change would essentially remove two of the three routes, meaning those resources can be put elsewhere in the system, where those expenses would be offset in part by fares. And they’re planning to charge for the new Downtown Connector route.

KAT has said it would revisit the trolley decision if someone would help cover the cost – pay for passes, in other words. If, say, the downtown hotels wanted to pool together to pay for passes, then KAT might keep some sort of trolley service downtown.

KAT also says the final, precise locations of bus stops have not yet been determined and that some routes could be shifted slightly if an ideal stop location is close enough. That’s going to happen over the course of the next few months, and there will be at least one public hearing. There is a lot of opposition to the preliminary stop near the John T. O’Connor Senior Center, for example. Currently, the bus pulls up in front of the entrance; the new network has that stop on Winona Street at the rear of the building. Could KAT move that stop back to the entrance? Possibly. The same could happen at Summit Towers. But it likely won’t happen without members of the public making the case for it.

As for routes serving the stadium, there is always the possibility of a special shuttle service on game nights. That would be a service outside the regular network, and I imagine that they would charge riders or have some organizations subsidize it.

fischbobber's picture


I'm completely new to this issue and trying to understand it. This helps.

edit: I haven't looked at the budget yet, but I suspect it's lean. There didn't appear to be a whole lot of fat to cut. A lot of what I saw was actually encouraging. It's an issue with room to work.

As an aside, if the trolley's are cut, that leaves half of the terminal out of use 24 hours a day. Any chance of Greyhound coming in if trolleys are cut? Is anyone considering it?

barker's picture

No impact

The trolley service has no impact on Knoxville Station. Only one of the three routes (Blue) stops there, and I'm 99 percent sure it just stops on the street outside. The new Downtown Connector will stop there too. The station itself is for the regular bus lines, so it will be used as always following the change.

Greyhound is not going to agree to move to Knoxville Station. Period.

fischbobber's picture


I was wondering about what they were going to do with the trolley (street) lane.

Side note: I'm pretty stoked about riding Route 23. (Fellini Kroger Route). The passenger that recommended it chuckled when I said I'd do it next week. He said I'd learn something. I can't wait.

barker's picture

Route 23

I've taken it a few times. It can be an interesting experience.

fischbobber's picture

Route 23

I'm fired up. I'm trying to figure out where to eat.

barker's picture

North Knoxville Eats

You've got a couple of choices. Jackie's Dream is up the hill from Kroger and Senor Taco is farther up Broadway in front of the bowling alley. You can't go wrong with either choice. Harby's Pizza is carryout only these days. Remi's, which is across from Fischer Tire, is a solid lunch counter type place. There are too many fast food options, of course. Bon appetite.

bizgrrl's picture

Thanks. Good info. Not much

Thanks. Good info. Not much forward thinking going on?

bizgrrl's picture

Raise the hotel tax or

Raise the hotel tax or reallocate current hotel tax funds?

R. Neal's picture

Not really relevent, but all

Not really relevent, but all this reminds me of an IBM guy trying to get the company I worked for to write software to support some new hardware they were developing. I told him I didn't see any demand because nobody's ever asked us for that capability.

He told me a story about a city that was looking to expand their bus service to a particular area. They hired a consultant to study it. A couple of weeks later the consultant reported back that there was no demand for service in that area. He said he had gone to busiest intersection there and stood on the corner every day for a week and never once saw anyone waiting for a bus.

fischbobber's picture

This afternoon from 4:00-4:30

I will be live on community TV with Hubert Smith discussing ways we can keep the downtown trolleys


bizgrrl's picture

Nice. Hope to watch.

Nice. Hope to watch.

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