Chattanooga ranked last in mass transit access

May 13, 2011 - 5:15 PM

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — Chattanooga ranks dead last for mass transit access of the nation's top 100 metropolitan areas, a national report shows.

The two-year study gave the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority high marks for providing access to jobs and for its service frequency. But it rated the system's geographical coverage for metro residents the worst.

CARTA executive director Tom Dugan told the Chattanooga Times Free Press he wasn't surprised by the ranking. He said Chattanooga does not put a lot of money into mass transit.

And he said serving residents in far-flung suburbs was not financially possible, given the lack of participation by outlying municipalities.

Overall, including factors such as service frequency, Chattanooga ranks No. 87 of 100. Neighboring cities Nashville and Knoxville are also near the bottom in the combined access rating, at Nos. 88 and 95 respectively.

According to Brookings, mass transit service in the Chattanooga metro area reaches 53 percent of low-income residents, 20 percent in the middle income bracket and 3.7 percent of high-income residents. On average, about 22.5 percent of metro Chattanooga residents live within three-quarters of a mile of a bus route. That compares to about 28 percent in Knoxville and about 32 percent in Nashville.

Residents of Honolulu have the best access to mass transit in the country.

Fluctuating gas prices over the years haven't done much to increase transit use in Chattanooga.

According to a 2008 report to the city, fares cover part of CARTA's costs. The transit agency relies on city and county funds for 27 percent of its operating budget.

The agency's local funding share is at the same level as 2003, despite rising fuel and personnel costs, Dugan said.

Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis have raised their support for mass transit. Memphis and Nashville spend more than twice as much per capita on transit than Chattanooga does.

CARTA's 2008 report considered 57 other U.S. cities about Chattanooga's size and found that on average, local governments provided 57 percent of the cost for mass transit, or $29.04 per resident, compared to $10.21 per resident in Chattanooga.

Knoxville Area Transit, like CARTA, has focused on serving its downtown core rather than outer suburbs, said Cindy McGinnis, the agency's general manager.

"The way a local transit system is going to look is based largely on the priorities of the area," she said. "Access to jobs is only one facet of the service that a transit system provides."

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Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com