KATS — now in its 16th year — operates six fixed bus routes Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. throughout the Model City, from Target to Walmart, the Kingsport Town Center, downtown and the Meadowview area. KATS also offers ADA/Paratransit service from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through Friday and earlier this year added a new connector service between downtown Kingsport, Colonial Heights and Johnson City via NET Trans Red Route 3X service.
Last week, Kingsport announced it was making minor changes to Routes 3 and 5 — a requirement of the Federal Transit Administration, which funds 50 percent of the $1.3 million KATS operation. The remaining 50 percent is split between the city and state.
Chris McCartt, assistant to the city manager, said the reason behind the route changes is due to the rising number of patrons using the service.
In May, KATS saw a combined ridership of 14,000, with the bulk of riders (12,500) using the fixed routes. Total ridership has gone from 95,000 in 2009 to more than 129,000 in 2010.
“(May) was a big month for us, and we’ve probably never done a combined ridership of 14,000 in the history of KATS. That’s very promising,” McCartt said. “But we came to the realization that some of these routes are nearing capacity, and we needed to make some adjustments to free up some additional capacity.”
Changes taking place — effective July 23 — include eliminating the stop in Riverview for Route 3. Route 5 will pick up that stop.
McCartt said adjustments being made to Route 5 include the stops in the Meadowview area (the medical office buildings) and dropping one of the two hourly stops in Miller Village.
“Instead of doing wholesale changes, we make minor tweaks periodically,” McCartt said, noting these are the most changes done to the routes in a couple of years.
The changes to the routes should free up some seating space within the 23-passenger buses, which along some of the busier routes fill up to capacity and cause people to have to wait on the next bus to come long.
KATS aims to get all buses to hit the stops within a couple of minutes of the posted time and back in to the transit office at 20 to 25 minutes past each hour for transfers, then send the bus out on the route by the bottom of the hour.
However, with the increased usage of the service, the stop times have been slipping.
“We’ve noticed if we don’t do something, we’ll continue to slip further and further behind. Typically, the more stops there are on a route, that slows it down,” McCartt said. “Occasionally we need to make some tweaks to the routes to allow us to continue providing a quality level of service, where people are comfortable and making sure we’re hitting the times as posted.”