The Cleveland Urban Area Transit System, run by the Southeast Tennessee Human Resource Agency, provides Cleveland residents with transportation within the city and the urban growth boundary.
The service is run out of the historic Southern Railway depot on Edwards Street.
Moving the CUATS offices to the depot has allowed better communication between administration and drivers.
“This allows us to be more on top of things — hour by hour, we are right here,” assistant director Robert Varnell III said.
Using the depot also allows for indoor seating for bus passengers, restroom facilities and a place to purchase tickets.
Tickets can also be purchased at the Cleveland Municipal Building.
Monthly passes can only be purchased at the depot or municipal building.
There are five routes.
“We have the red and blue, which serve South Cleveland, than we have the Green, Orange and Gold that serve central to north Cleveland,” Varnell said.
Each route has one bus.
“We only have a few official stops, but we are a flag system at this point,” Varnell said.
Varnell explained if a driver knows there is an area where people will be, the bus will stop. Those not near an official stop but who need a ride along the route can also flag down a driver and buy a ticket on board.
“There are areas we won’t pull over because of safety issues,” Varnell said.
The Gold route stops at the YMCA, Bradley Square Mall and the Peerless Crossing Medical Center.
“We have the stop here at the depot, which every hour on the hour all of our routes come together and do transfers. The red and blue, which serves south, will go their separate ways, but they meet up at the Walmart on Treasury Drive. ”
All of the north Cleveland buses meet at the mall.
“Eventually we might go to more of a stop-only system. We just aren’t there yet,” Varnell said.
Use of the service varies throughout any given month.
“The first week of the month is always our busiest,” Varnell said.
In February, the service provided more than 7,000 rides.
CUATS receives federal funding designated for small urban transit systems.
This funding restricts the buses to the Cleveland and urban growth areas.
Varnell said the CUATS buses cannot take someone to Chattanooga. However, the SETHRA buses that serve 10 counties can.
CUATS also provides para-transit service for residents in the community. This is a door-to-door service operated out of the CUATS office for those who are not close to the fixed routes for doctor’s visits, etc. within the Cleveland city limits.
As Cleveland grows more buses per routes may become necessary. Varnell said this would depend on available funding.
The administration handles the scheduling, and the dispatching of buses is handled at the depot offices.
Varnell’s most recent major plan was the completion of new routes.
‘The MPO (Municipal planning organization) is a big partner for us in that,” Varnell said. “Regarding the routes, we go through a study. We talk to our riders, We had ideas from our drivers. When you look at a map, or you know Cleveland well enough, you say, ‘Well, this is where we should be going,’ and things like that.’”
CUATS then worked with a planning company the MPO usually uses to put the study into report form.
“We are going to see how that changes the dynamics because some routes ... had a lot higher volumes than others before,” Varnell said. “I’m hoping to even it out.”
Data was collected on ridership, the most popular routes, locations people wanted to go to where the buses were not stopping, etc.
The proposed route changes were then reviewed by the CUATS office and the SETHRA office in Dunlap.
Major changes in the plan are on the Gold route.
‘The Gold route previously did not run to the depot. It just ran the north end of town … now it’s been restricted to try to do Keith Street up and down, as well as Stuart Road,” Varnell said. “The main thing I wanted to do when I started looking at the routes was ... to get rid of some redundancy.”
The way some of the routes were previously laid out, a bus would go up and down the same street.
Bringing service to Lee University students has presented a challenge to CUATS, Varnell said.
“We don’t want to get in the way of the school, but we want to serve the school. So now we serve it from two sides, rather than crisscrossing back and forth.”
Route changes have eliminated a few spots where buses had stopped in the past. However, Varnell said some places, such as doctor’s offices along the route, can be accommodated by request.
Many are pleased with the new routes.
Depot office staff stays in touch with the drivers through radios. Varnell said the office radios resemble telephones.
In addition to drivers and office staff, CUATS also employs a road supervisor who oversees the maintenance needs of the vehicles, and works with the drivers.
One-way tickets are $1. A day pass can be purchased for $2. A ticket good for 20 rides costs $15. A pass for unlimited rides for a month is $20.
Discounted tickets are available for students, the elderly and those with disabilities.
CUATS works with the larger SETHRA organization on a many aspects of the program. However the budget for CUATS is separate, as are employees.