Big changes to Knoxville bus services

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Scott Sweat, a homeless man, explains how much he and other homeless men and women need KAT buses to get around. (Photo by Hard Knox Wire)

 

Using public transportation in Knoxville is about to get harder after the City’s bus system was forced to cut services Thursday due to a shortage of workers. 

Several Knoxville Area Transit (KAT) bus routes were slashed altogether while many others will operate less frequently and cease earlier in the day. 

The news was greeted with alarm by many working class and homeless Knoxvillians who have no other means of transportation, but KAT officials have called the employee shortage “completely unprecedented” and the cuts unavoidable. 

The 11-member Knoxville Transportation Authority, which oversees the bus system, approved several service reductions at its Thursday meeting. KAT staff requested the cuts because there aren’t enough workers to support operations.

After hearing from the public, KAT staff also recommended adding back one weekday evening trip at 10:15 p.m. on Route 42 – UT/Ft. Sanders Hospital, due to the consistent numbers of employees from both hospitals whose shifts end during that time. 

“KAT has had to reduce service levels during COVID twice – once in early 2020, returning to regular levels in July,” KAT spokesperson Belinda Woodiel-Brill explained after the meeting. 

“But those same reductions had to occur again in November 2020,” she continued. “Increasing workforce allowed a return to some previous levels of service, but not all, in March of 2021.  However, since that time, workforce levels have continued to fall and are now lower than at any time during the pandemic.”

To people like Scott Sweat, a 60-year-old homeless man who lives in a tiny encampment behind a North Knoxville restaurant, any reduction in KAT services is potentially devastating. 

“The bus is how I go locating food, clothing, trying to get housing,” Sweat said while sitting at the bus stop on Knox Road in Fountain City. “This means I probably won’t make it to some of it.”

Sweat said he was particularly concerned about trying to get to appointments with doctors and social workers. 

“A lot of it’s just making it back and forth all time,” he said. “If the bus doesn’t run, you miss your meetings and lose all your benefits. They need to keep up the regular schedule and add more to it.”

Fast food worker Josh Jackson, 19, echoed many of Sweat’s concerns. 

“I don’t have a car and I don’t know when I’ll be able to afford one,” he said. “It looks like right now I’ll be okay, but if they have to cut any more I’m afraid I won’t be able to work… It seems to me with so many people not working that you’d want to make it easier for them.”

According to Woodiel-Brill, KAT officials are trying to minimize obstacles for those who who take the bus to and from work.

“Recognizing the spiraling effect this could have on those using KAT for work-related transportation, KAT and Knox County CAC Transit are partnering to provide work-related transportation to fill in the gaps left by these reduced service levels,” she wrote in a press release.

“KAT passengers can call Knox County CAC Transit at 865-524-0319 to check availability.  Knox County CAC Transit will do their best to work with passenger schedules to provide work-related trips.  KAT will cover the costs of the CAC fares for these passengers until a return to normal service levels on that route,” she said.

Scott Sweat carries a bag onto a KAT bus at the Knox Road station on Thursday. (Photo by Hard Knox Wire)

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at jjstambaugh@hardknoxwire.com.

Published on July 8, 2022.

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