Everything you need to know to take your first CARTA bus ride


Get the app, seriously. It’s especially helpful for CARTA newbies. | NOOGAtoday

Table of Contents

Morning, folks + TGIF. Chloé here. Last weekend I marked an item off my NOOGA bucket list — learn to navigate the city bus system.

getting on bus

CARTA buses run every day from 7:30-8:30 a.m. | NOOGAtoday

Although I’ve navigated public transportation in major cities, such as Portland, San Diego + Chicago, I had a lot of questions about hopping on a local city bus.

A glance at the bus routes + times didn’t help lessen my anxiety. *cue head-spinning*

I enlisted a friend, who has navigated the local bus system before, to help me. But before he could even meet me at the stop, we had missed the bus because I was waiting in the wrong place (the Downtown Electric Shuttle stop at Market + Cowart streets).

So, we hopped on the next shuttle — all of which are free + run about every 5 minutes, but shouldn’t be mistaken for the city bus — and rode just a few blocks to the CARTA station at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, where a driver offered to help us with our route.

We then walked less than a minute to the correct stop on Market Street + set out to go to Burger King on 23rd Street.

bus to 23rd street

You can plan your trip using GoogleMaps online or by downloading the Transit app. This isn’t the exact route I took because I went on a Saturday, but it’s really close.

We waited about 10 minutes for the next bus + the Transit app told us how many minutes we had until the bus we wanted would arrive. For the first leg of the trip, it cost $1.50.

The bus didn’t have to make many stops, so it didn’t take as long as predicted + we got off on 23rd St., a block away from Burger King, where we got a drink and planned our route back downtown.

On the way back, I entered our end Market Street destination and the app told me how long I had until I needed to start walking to the bus stop, which was about 5 minutes away. It also told us to find the stop at 23rd and Lyerly, but when I approached the intersection, there was no sign. 😨

There wasn’t much to do at that point except trust the app + hope the bus would stop where we were, which it did. 👍

We put together everything you need to know about using Chattanooga’s public transportation, so you can be on the CARTA in no time.👇


  • Do I need cash? Yes or a bus pass or UTC ID. And exact change is required.
  • What if I get on the wrong bus? Disastrous scenarios of being stuck headed toward Hamilton Place with nowhere to get off ran through my head. But try not to feel embarrassed. Just get off when you can and use the app to find the correct one. The drivers I encountered were friendly and happy to help.
  • What time do the buses run? Buses run every day from 7:30-8:30 p.m. I rode on a Saturday when I had plenty of time + nowhere to be. But for planning out trips to get to work, appointments, etc., the CARTA bus tracker website or Transit app are your new best friends.

Fast facts

  • CARTA stands for Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority.
  • Buses are free to all UTC students/faculty/staff with valid ID.
  • Ridership in 2017 was 103,787.
bus stop

This is the sign you’re looking for. These shouldn’t be confused with electric shuttle stops. You may also encounter a situation in which the app tells you to go to an intersection where there’s no sign. The bus likely still stops there. | NOOGAtoday

Step-by-step guide

  1. Download the Transit app. The app allows you to enter your current location + destination and then tells you what bus to get on and exactly how to get to the correct bus stop. You can also plan your trip online.
  2. Find the appropriate bus stop and look for the route number you need. The numbers are on the front of the buses, which come in 20-minute intervals.
  3. Have your money with exact change or your pass/ID ready when you board the bus. You can’t use a debit/credit card to pay.
  4. Pull the yellow cord above your head when you are almost at your stop. This notifies the driver that someone needs to stop. If you don’t pull the cord, the bus won’t stop. This happened to our intern.
  5. Same steps for the return trip, except double check that you’re at the correct stop. It may not be the same one as where you got off.

Get the app, seriously. It’s especially helpful for CARTA newbies. | NOOGAtoday


  • Shuttle stops + bus stop ≠ same thing. I stood at a shuttle stop, wondering why there weren’t any bus details and then I awkwardly half waved at the CARTA bus I wanted to get on as it went right on past.
  • Use the app. I didn’t think I needed to do that. I filled in my location + destination online and figured it couldn’t be that difficult. But as you see above, I ended up at a shuttle stop. The app provides detailed, step-by-step instructions + reminders of when you should start heading toward your stop so you make it in enough time. It also tells you how far away your bus is.
  • Have patience while you’re learning. We also had our intern Logan ride CARTA for the first time. He got lost, missing a couple of buses and said that the combination of his “inherent impatience” and his lack of experience with CARTA, made for a frustrating experience. So, patience, friends.
  • Give it a try. If you aren’t in a position to need to take the bus, recognize this as a privilege + consider giving it a try anyway. It’s a good way to get to know your community better, meet new people + reduce your carbon footprint.