Big Orange Big Ideas has brought big orange buses to campus, replacing the system with Knoxville Area Transit for a new partnership with First Transit.
Twenty new buses, including 14 large buses and six vans, rolled in from California and on June 1, began operating limited routes to the Hill, along Volunteer Boulevard and in front of residence halls on Andy Holt Avenue. Each bus is equipped with GPS locators, complete disability accessibility, USB charging stations and trademark UT design elements.
Jake Baker, student body president and a senior in political science and history, said the change is a long time coming and much needed on the 560-acre campus.
"I think it's going to have a big impact on student life at UT," Baker said. "For a campus this size, having an efficient bus system is one of the most important things for the student body."
Funding for the project came primarily out of the student transportation fee, a value of $2 per credit hour per person. The traffic and parking authority has proposed an increase of that fee in order to fund the new system; the proposal will go before the Board of Trustees during their meeting on June 19-20.
TransLoc, a GPS-based app used by other universities such as North Carolina State and Yale, offers students a way to see where each bus is on campus. Selecting a bus brings up the bus number, the route and that particular bus's next stop. Each stop is represented by an interactive dot, color coded to match the route, that tells students when a bus is expected arrive and also includes a second estimate for the next bus.
"This is something that students have been asking for for years, and we are so excited to be able to finally provide this to students," Mark Hairr, director of parking and transit services, said Monday during The T's unveiling.
The app enables First Transit to monitor the routes around the clock, creating notifications when delays are expected and when delays are expected to end.
Administration is working on integrating TransLoc with the preexisting UT app, but until then students can download TransLoc on any smartphone device for free.
The new fleet runs on B20, a biodiesel that blends 20 percent biodiesel with conventional diesel and reduces emissions of hydrocarbons by 20 percent. Hairr recalled the black soot that used to pour out of the old 1988 model buses and called on Scott Conroy, director of operations for First Transit, to explain the new look of the T's exhaust fumes.
"The exhaust coming out of a stack at the back of this bus, if you see it, it's clear. It's heat," Conroy said. "It's actually cleaner than the intake air. So much is going on at the back of the bus to scrub the exhaust before it leaves the vehicle, there's less particulate matter coming out than there is going in.
"It would take 50 of these buses – basically an entire city fleet – to equal the emissions of one of those 1988 buses."
The buses also feature bike racks to accommodate three bikes per bus. Hairr said the decision to include the racks was based out of UT's commitment to sustainability and alternative transportation.
We thought it was important to really focus on bicycling in connection with the transit system," he said.
The T was built with student input, including the name, which was selected in order to preserve a campus tradition of referring to the KAT buses as "the T."
Hairr said students also requested USB charging stations during committee meetings and demonstrated the stations during the unveiling.
"We actually added this after we started the process, so I think that shows how we reacted to student input to be able to add these on, that's a really unique feature that you don't see on many buses," he said. "Maybe one other set of buses has that feature."
The four charging stations are located under the seats in the back of the bus. Baker predicted high popularity for the charging feature.
"During some of the busier times those will probably get occupied pretty quickly, students always charging their phone in between classes, but it will be a nice resource for students to have on the bus either way," he said.
Each bus is also equipped with a wheelchair accessibility ramp and auditory stop notation system for those who are visually impaired, rendering the entire fleet compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The iconic Tennessee checkerboard adorns both sides of the T, and a window decal shows Smokey waving while hanging out a side window.
We wanted it to be UT specific, to be branded with the UT identity," Hairr said, "and we certainly accomplished that. "
For Baker, who works as a campus tour guide, the UT-specific branding impresses potential Vols.
"One of the most popular questions we get is 'is there a bus on campus?' It's so great to be able to tell them that we have a brand new bus system that is completely branded to the university of Tennessee and that so much student input was received when they were designing the buses."