The guest speaker at the downtown Kiwanis Club meeting Tuesday was Tom Dugan, Executive Director of Carta, who gave an overview of the company’s history and where it is going. January 1, will mark the 40th anniversary of CARTA which began January 1, 1973 when Southern Coach Lines, a private transportation company, was bought with funding from the city of Chattanooga, Hamilton County, and state and federal governments. The business has changed under his leadership starting in 1979, when the original focus was 62 big buses. Actually, said Mr. Dugan, 60 percent of the manpower and budget still is associated with the big buses. The physical location of the business until 1978 were the buildings between Broad and Market Street where Big River Grille, Blue Water Grille and the Sports Barn are now located.
A second component of the original business was the Incline Railway up Lookout Mountain. This is one of the most unique structures, he said and “a wondrous invention”. But in 1979 the net income derived from the Incline was only $10,000 and Carta wanted to sell it. It is profitable now and generates about a million dollars in income yearly.
Expansion of services then started with Care-a-Van, which was mandated by federal law to provide transportation to people with special needs. Originally, this part of the business was contracted out to the Easter Seal Society, but later was brought back to the company. It now serves 4,000 people each month.
Mr. Dugan said that federal assistance became available in 1974 which proved to be one of the worst things that happened during the 40 years of existence. It removed incentives for profitability and allowed for providing some bad and money-losing routes. When President Reagan was in office, funding was cut. The company, not being prepared, had to lay off people and routes were cut or combined. In the mid-1980s the business stabilized, he said.
The day that the Tennessee Aquarium opened, CARTA began providing the downtown park and ride shuttle service. This was started using large buses. At that time, Mr. Dugan said he had seen electric buses in California, but their use in Chattanooga began later for the shuttle service. This now has a million passengers per year. The free shuttle is funded by the parking component of the plan. It is a convenience for locals and is huge for visitors. “This is one of the most successful things we’ve done,” he said. In the future, shuttle service might be expanded to the Southside with all the new development there, and possibly to the Hamilton Place area.
Next came two parking garages. A study done by Mayor Ron Littlefield determined the city needed a comprehensive organization to deal with parking. In addition to the garages, management began at several parking lots along Riverside Drive, at the Northshore parks and Frazier Avenue, where CARTA took over the collection process and began repairing parking meters.
In October 2012, parking meter enforcement was acquired. It was realized that parking enforcement personnel could do more than monitor meters. They are now referred to as ambassadors and deal in public relations and provide tourist information. The reason to have paid parking, said Mr. Dugan, is so there will be turnover at street parking and more people will have a chance to find a space. Previously, enforcement was lacking. People working in the hospitality industry now are offered parking in lots managed by CARTA at one fourth the cost of meter parking.
Any profit made from parking goes back to parking, the Kiwanis members were told. New parking facilities are being considered in places such as a vacant lot at 7th Street and in the growing Southside. Some old meters are now in the process of being replaced with 600 new ones that will accept credit cards. Some areas will soon have multi-space meters where a parking place number will generate a parking ticket. Instead of placing the ticket on a dashboard, a license tag number can be entered in the multi-space meter. Cameras will scan parking meters to see if a vehicle has remained in one space longer than the maximum time limit that is allowed. In effect, this is “electronic tire chalking,” said Mr. Dugan, and it will begin after January next year. “It’s high-tech all the way,” he said.
Times for metered parking was a question asked of Mr. Dugan. Enforcement is from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday with the exception of Frazier Avenue, the Northshore and Riverside Drive with has the same hours from Monday-Saturday. Parking is free on Sunday, but illegal parking is restricted at all times. If you do get a ticket, payment can be made at the south garage in person, by mail or by the internet.
In regular business, it was announced that the Kiwanis coupon books are now available and on sale for $35. There is one coupon for Groom Transportation worth $79 in savings members were told, and others for good restaurants and the Little Theater among many other things.