UT's T-Transit System is moving forward. Literally.
The T is now hitting its highest ridership since being absorbed by First Transit during the summer of 2013. Speculation attributes the rise in popularity to the new, more visible bus advertisements and the accompanying smart phone app.
Previously, UT's transportation system was run and funded by Knoxville's KAT bus system. The new system is modeled after that of Harvard University, embodying the progressive, Top 25 attitude sweeping campus.
"A bus system on any campus is essential to the master plan," said Director of Transportation and Safety Mark Hairr, "the master plan of connecting people and helping them operate through their day-to-day lives across campus."
Fare free, T-Transit runs six fixed routes run through campus, the most popular being the Neyland Express route. Point-to-Point and overnight services are also provided by T-Link and T-Access buses, sub-units of the T-Bus fleet. Special events, like sporting events or conferences, are also accessible via the T-Transit system.
But accommodations for students with disabilities remain a relevant concern.
"We are providing more services under the same hours," Hairr said. "This includes all regular bus routes with added special access van routes. This gives even more mobility to students on campus."
The buses were also redesigned to sport a big orange paint job and mascot Smokey. Due to similar routes and design, UT students and staff often found the KAT buses indistinguishable from the T.
"The look and visibility of the vehicles gives T-Transit the branding it needs to show students 'Hey, we're here if you need us'," said Dallas Jones, a T-Bus driver.
As requested by students, the smart phone app includes routes, directions, schedules and immediate feedback for usage of T-Buses.
UT's bus driver Angela Mobley has been working with the school for 17 years. After a small furlough, Mobley made it her priority to return.
"We love working here because we love interacting with the students of this great campus, but sometimes it's difficult when roads are treated as sidewalks," Mobley said.
Taking place in only a few short months, the T's facelift is timely, to say the least.
"This increase in ridership could show an increase in the students' population," Hairr said. "But it also says a lot about the progress of the system. This increase puts less pressure on parking and street networks as UT moves towards a pedestrian friendly campus as construction continues."