First Transit, which operates more than 20 campus bus systems and which has over 50 years’ experience, became the campus transportation service provider on June 1, 2013, following a competitive proposal process, with dedicated buses and increased service, paid for by a $60 increase in the transportation fee. The university instituted its own transportation system in January 2003 and named it “the T.” The Knoxville Area Transit System (KAT) was the successful bidder to provide the service on campus at that time. Service on the first phase of the complete transportation system began on January 13, 2003. Initially, there were two main routes: East-West, which provided students living along Andy Holt Avenue access to the agriculture campus, Hodges Library, the university center, and the Hill; and the Late Nite route, which ran through the heart of the campus and extended along White Avenue to serve Clement and Strong Halls, Laurel Apartments, and other areas of Fort Sanders. A transfer point at the corner of Phillip Fulmer Way and Andy Holt Avenue was established. An Ag Express line, running from 9:45 until 2:45, was added in October 2003. A Transportation Fee (of $16) was also implemented in 2003, partially to subsidize the provision of bus service.
In 2012 proposals were sought from transportation service providers for expanded bus service with dedicated and UT-branded buses, enhanced technology, and lessened carbon emissions. The $18 million, five-year contract was awarded following a competitive-bid process designed to provide maximum competition from various types of transit organizations. A committee of faculty, staff, and students evaluated the transit bids and noted the new vendor’s speed and flexibility in adding and adjusting routes as needed to better serve the campus. The committee also noted the new vendor’s ability to provide all-new buses with consistent branding of the university’s logo and school colors. The final round of bidding involved KAT and First Transit.
First Transit initially provided 20 buses, made in California especially for UT, with the UT checkerboard and Smokey featured on the distinctive vehicles. As the buses were driven across the country in convoy, they attracted lots of interest from alumni and friends of UT and frequently drew a crowd of onlookers. The buses, in response to the results of a survey conducted by Parking and Transit Services, had GPS tracking (available through the UT mobile app) and USB charging ports, were accessible for mobility-impaired riders, had front bicycle racks, and ran on the highest grade of biodiesel (B20). Operation of buses on B20 reduces emissions of hydrocarbons by 20 percent.
The current transit system has evolved from institutional efforts over time to make traversing the campus easier for the university community. The Knoxville Transit Lines (now Knoxville Area Transit) first provided bus service between the main and agricultural campuses on October 27, 1947. The buses made a complete trip each hour from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., from the front of Morgan Hall and the Hill. Only students enrolled for classes held on the agriculture campus received the special passes required of riders.
In September 1968 UT inaugurated a special shuttle bus service between the main campus and its four off-campus married student apartments. The fare was 10 cents. The buses ran from 7:15 a.m. (at Taliwa and Golf Range), with stops at Woodlawn and Kingston Apartments until 5:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Free bus service was available on campus in the 1970s. In 1978 the cost of the bus service had been approximately $240,000, and only $85,000 could be budgeted for 1979. In spring 1979 Student Government Association representatives agreed that if the service other than that to the agriculture campus and married student housing could not support itself, it should be discontinued, and a charge of 10 cents was instituted. Shuttle bus service to Sutherland Avenue and Chapman Highway housing was also raised from 25 cents to 30 cents per ride. Students could purchase a book of tickets that provided 12 rides for the price of 10; otherwise, they were required to have exact change. By early October, the campus loop bus lines had been discontinued because of low ridership, and two runs to the married student apartments on Sutherland Avenue had also been scrapped. The Hill bus and the agriculture campus bus remained. The Hill bus continued to cost 10 cents, and students with classes on the agriculture campus were given passes to ride that bus. Bus service on campus was discontinued the following year.