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Farragut Board agree to help cash strapped KAT

Town’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen acted on KAT commuters’ concerns over the planned closure of the Farragut Express, which runs the route between downtown and Farragut six times each day.

The Board, after hearing from KAT general manager Cynthia McGinnis, unanimously agreed to become a funding partner for the bus line with an initial yearly payment of $20,000.

According to McGinnis, 19,960 riders rode the Farragut Express this past fiscal year. In June, there were twice as many riders of the Express as the same time last year.

“Fuel is what’s driving this discussion … This only started in February or March, so it’s new to us too,” McGinnis said of the sudden and drastic impact of rising fuel costs on KAT’s budget.

Nearly half of KAT’s budget, McGinnis said, is provided by the City of Knoxville. The state and federal government also provide operating assistance and grants. In addition, The University of Tennessee, Oak Ridge and Y-12 all provide funding or have grants for their bus routes.

McGinnis did not identify Knox County as a major funding partner, but only one who contributes to the Halls Express.

“KAT staff is not aware of any additional money coming from the County for the Halls Express route, but the Halls Express will be eliminated if there is not some kind of increased funding arrangement with Knox County,” McGinnis said.

“Essentially, KAT is just a logo. We are a department of the city of Knoxville with lots of funding partners,” McGinnis said, adding she was unsure if the City of Knoxville or Knox County would be able or willing to contribute more money.

Vice Mayor J. Michael Haynes said the City of Knoxville border, because of a finger annexation, is less than one mile away from the park and ride lot in Farragut. Later, Gerald Derthick told the Board two of the afternoon buses were shared with the Cedar Bluff express route.

“I don’t exempt Farragut from making some kind of contribution too, but I hope your Board will consider asking the City of Knoxville and the County and not just assume this is a Farragut issue,” Haynes said.

McGinnis finished her presentation by saying that KAT needed $100,000 to keep the Express running.

“We have estimated that a $100,000 contribution from the town of Farragut along with passenger fares would cover the $112,000 expenses to our system to provide this service,” McGinnis said, later adding that this would pay fuel and labor costs.

Alderman Tom Rosseel said that, at 19,000 riders paying $5 fares, the necessary $100,000 could be raised quickly.

“Fares only cover about ten percent of our deficit … any increase in fares we would take into consideration, but it’s not going to be huge,” McGinnis said, adding that KAT could not feasibly increase fares until January 2009, when an upgraded fare collection system is being installed.

“The last thing you want to do with passengers is keep adjusting their fares, so we would rather wait until that upgrade is in place,” McGinnis said.

“Are you stating you would rather shut down this route than ask them to pay an increase in rate between now and January?” Haynes said.

“People who have contacted me have said they would agree to paying some kind of amount of increased fare,” he added.

“We don’t do anything quickly, and raising fares, unfortunately, is not something we can just turn around and do differently,” McGinnis said.

The $20,000 funding the Town arrived at originated in a conversation between Mayor W. Edward “Eddy” Ford III and City councilman Chris Woodhall. Woodhall agreed that $20,000 would be a reasonable sum for Farragut to contribute because other Knox County citizens ride the Farragut Express and because Farragut already funds the park and ride lot.

“He felt that was a good faith effort on the town of Farragut,” Ford said.

McGinnis said the $20,000 from the Town is not a stopgap measure until funds can be raised somewhere else. However, Board members were clear to say the money was an initial fund and future partnership would be considered annually.

“I don’t see it as inappropriate for the Town to step in at this point. What’s to be done on a long term basis I believe is a separate issue and I concur to making this a first-year initiative,” said Alderman John Williams.

Knoxville Transportation Authority will consider the closure of the Farragut Express in a public hearing in the City County Building at 3 p.m., Thursday, July 24.


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