During the development of Mobility Plan 2040, we heard from people about transit at every meeting we held or attended. It was also a common theme in all of our surveys.

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What We Heard

  • Lack of public transit was ranked second among respondents for the greatest transportation challenge our region is facing [1]
  • 42% of respondents want to be able to take transit to get around our region
  • 64% of respondents say there is little transit within walking distance of home [2]


How the Mobility Plan Addresses Transit

Many elements of Mobility Plan 2040 address the issue of transit service and development that supports transit. Information about our region’s existing services is included, as well as a list of future transit projects. The selection criteria for these projects included weighting that acknowledges the importance of transportation options. Other themes within the plan are directly tied to transit as well:

  • The “centers and corridors” growth plan concept is key – helping create different sized centers throughout the region means that more destinations, like corner stores, will be within walking distance of more residents, which means transit service is more feasible. “Transit corridors” are also identified on this map – these are corridors that are envisioned to have more frequent transit service and dedicated transit lanes and stations. Read more
  • Many of the plan’s goals relate to transit and to walkability (which is an integral part of transit):

Why is Transit Important?


30% of people in Tennessee don’t have a driver’s license. There are many reasons – because they are younger than 16, too old to safely drive, have a disability, or can’t afford a car. 11.6% of U.S. adults aged 18-64 years reported a disability, ranging from vision-related disabilities to mobility-related disabilities.[3] How do these people get to the store, church, doctor’s appointments, work, or friends’ houses?


After housing, transportation is the second largest expense for the average American household—exceeding food, education, recreation, and health care. A two-person household can save, on average, more than $8,500 a year by downsizing to one car.[4]

  • Every $1 invested in public transportation generates approximately $4 in economic returns.
  • Every $1 billion invested in public transportation supports and creates more than 50,000 jobs.
  • Every $10 million in capital investment in public transportation yields $30 million in increased business sales.
  • Home values performed 42% better on average if located near public transportation with high-frequency service.[5]


Every transit trip begins and ends with a walking trip. Walking is a great way for people to increase their physical activity. Chronic diseases are the leading causes of death in the United States and major contributors to years lived with a disability.[6] People who are physically active have about a 30% lower risk of early death than people who are inactive.[7] Even low amounts of physical activity reduce this risk.


Public transportation use in the United States reduces our nation’s carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons annually. This is equivalent to Washington, DC; New York City; Atlanta; Denver; and Los Angeles combined ending their electricity use.

One person with a 20-mile round trip commute who switches from driving to public transit can reduce his or her daily carbon emissions by 20 pounds, or more than 4,800 pounds in a year.

A single commuter switching his or her commute to public transportation can reduce a household’s carbon emissions by 10 percent and up to 30 percent if he or she eliminates a second car.

What Do You Need for Transit?

What is the density needed to support transit service?

Metro, in Austin, TX, has service guidelines that consider residential densities of 16 persons per acre or employment densities of 8 employees per acre to be transit-supportive. Pace Suburban Bus in the Chicago region serves areas with 4 – 10 dwelling units per acre and/or 30 employees per acre.

To provide local context, our region as a whole has just 2 people per acre – not even one dwelling unit/acre. The City of Knoxville has 2.95 people/acre. The City of Oak Ridge has less than 1 person/acre. The City of Maryville has 2.55 people/acre. Knox County has 1.33 people/acre.

The 2013 Knoxville Regional Transit Corridor Study analyzed population and employment densities along 12 potential transit corridors. Densities within ¼ mile of the corridors ranged from 0.51 to 3.47 persons per acre. Employment densities ranged from 0.27 to 4.6 employees per acre.

This study recommended further analysis of three corridors in our region for potential Bus Rapid Transit (BRT): North Broadway between downtown and Fountain City; Cumberland/Kingston Pike between Morrell Rd and downtown; and Magnolia Avenue between Chilhowee Park and downtown.

BRT is a high-quality bus-based transit system that delivers fast, comfortable, and cost-effective services at big city capacities. It does this by providing dedicated lanes, with dedicated busways and stations, off-board fare collection, and fast and frequent operations. Because BRT contains features similar to a light rail or metro system, it is much more reliable, convenient and faster than regular bus services. With the right features, BRT is able to avoid the causes of delay that typically slow regular bus services, like being stuck in traffic and queuing to pay on board.

There are three key ingredients to making transit service work well:


Routes should be direct, avoiding complex paths across a city. Fare payment needs to be fast and easy, via off-board fare collection or tap-and-go entry at every door. Transit can’t get bogged down in traffic, either, so features like dedicated space on the street and priority at traffic lights are needed to keep things moving.

Frequency and Reliability

People won’t ride transit if they can’t depend on it. A network of routes that arrive at least every 15 minutes helps people know that a bus or train will be there when they need it, and gives them multiple route options in case there’s a problem with one. Accurate, real-time data published in app-friendly formats allows riders to get the information they need where and when they want it. And properly-managed dispatching can use this real-time data to keep transit evenly spaced, so riders won’t have long, unpredictable waits.

Walkability and Accessibility

Transit works best when people can walk to it. That means both concentrating transit in compact, walkable places, and making it easier to walk to transit in places where pedestrian infrastructure is lacking. That could entail adding bus shelters, painting crosswalks, and expanding pedestrian space in the short term, and lifting restrictions on new development near transit in the long term.

How is Transit Funded?

A major obstacle to providing more transit is that most of the funding managed by the TPO cannot be used to expand transit service. Public transit costs are separated into two categories: capital and operating. Capital costs include long-term costs such as vehicles and facilities. Operating funding pays employee salaries and benefits (“the driver in the seat” – as much as 75% of the total budget), fuel, insurance, maintenance and utilities.

Transit funding comes from a variety of sources, including passenger fares, local tax revenue, as well as state and federal grants. Most state and federal grants (such as those managed by the TPO) require local entities to provide matching funds and are restricted to capital expenditures – which means they can’t be used to increase or expand transit service. In order to expand existing transit service or start new transit service, a significant amount of funding would need to come from the city or county that wants the service.

To give you an idea of where transit funding comes from, here are the 2016 sources for KAT’s funding.

Funding Source Revenue % of total budget
City of Knoxville $8,647,720 46.3%
State of Tennessee $3,113,900 16.7%
FTA $4,687,836 25.1%
Fares $2,222,643 11.9%
Total Revenue $18,672,099


How Can You Get Involved?

  • Recode Knoxville
    The City of Knoxville’s zoning ordinance hasn’t been updated in more than 50 years. Recode Knoxville is a process to adopt modern standards that will support continued development and redevelopment of the City in a way that uses resources efficiently and builds a strong, sustainable, walkable, transit-supportive community.
  • Sidewalk Ordinance
    The draft ordinance is a comprehensive policy for the City of Knoxville that would set requirements for pedestrian facilities associated with new development and redevelopment. In order to be adopted, the ordinance will need approval from City Council. Being able to walk to bus stops is an important component of transit service.
  • Bike Walk Knoxville
    BWK is a community driven, non-profit organization working to create safe streets and vibrant communities in the Knoxville region. They promote bicycling and walking as mainstream and enjoyable forms of transportation and recreation. Again, making communities walkable is an integral part of transit.
  • You can sign up to stay in the loop with monthly e-newsletters from the TPO.


[1]survey in 2017 on regional priorities and barriers to travel had more than 350 responses.

[2] The University of Tennessee’s College of Social Work conducted a statistically valid telephone survey in spring 2012, with a total of 2,000 respondents from Anderson, Blount, Knox, Loudon, and Union Counties.

[3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vital signs: disability and physical activity — United States, 2009-2012. MMWR Morbid Mortal Wkly Rep. 2014;63(18):407-413.

[4] AAA’s driving cost estimates for 2016

[5] American Public Transportation Association, “Public Transportation Benefits”

[6] U.S. Burden of Disease Collaborators. The state of U.S. health, 1990-2010: burden of diseases, injuries, and risk factors. JAMA. 2013;310(6): 591-608.

[7] Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, 2008. Washington, DC: U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services; 2008