Chattanooga – a great American city that deserves a better transportation system

Chattanooga and Tennessee River

Chattanooga – the Tennessee River and the Delta Queen

No choo choo train, just taxi drivers and car hire companies await you at Chattanooga airport

Chattanooga has so much to offer the visitor to the USA  – a small friendly city sitting on the Tennessee River surrounded by mountains.

But independent travellers be warned. The concept of an integrated transport system with buses and trains serving its visitors is just not on its blueprint for the future.

I feel sorry for the backpacker, touring America on a budget, who arrives at the city’s Greyhound bus station. He will be greeted by a taxi driver who tells him the only way to get anywhere is by paying his premium fares. The same applies at the nearby airport where a fleet of taxi drivers wait to charge you a minimum ten dollars to the nearest localities, 18 to downtown and 40 to Lookout Mountain, a popular beauty spot a few miles away.

When I inquired with airport staff how to get to downtown I ended up talking to a girl on the car hire desk  who wanted me to hire a car and seemed to think I was mad to want to use buses. She told me I might not like the kind of people who would be using the buses. I began to think I was in a zombie movie.

CARTA – the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority – runs the bus services as well as a free downtown shuttle bus service. It also owns and operates the historic Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, which ascends from the St. Elmo neighbourhood to the town of Lookout Mountain,

But CARTA provides no bus links between the airport, the Greyhound bus station and the mountain and I could see no information at the airport about local buses. I knew from a previous visit, when I just passed through the city, that Brainerd was near the airport so I took a taxi. To take me just over a mile, the driver wanted to charge me 12 dollars. When I pointed out the airport sign said the fare was 10, he said it was out of date but agreed to charge me 10

I later found some information on Wikipedia which I will pass on for the benefit of visitors. To get downtown from Greyhound walk a couple blocks to Van Ness Rd and Lee Highway and catch the inbound CARTA route 4 bus to downtown. Last stop is at Market Street and West 4th Ave.

This is the bus service I eventually used during my stay in the city. It charges 1.50 dollars per trip no matter what journey you take. It’s a lot better than handing over handfuls of dollars to taxi drivers. I do hate cities that leave it to taxi drivers to provide the transport welcome to their visitors. Having made my complaint, I will have to move on and write about Chattanooga. It is a beautiful city well worth a visit. But my advice is to visit by car if you want to enjoy it to the full.

Downtown is very easy to walk around and very friendly and there is also the free electric shuttle for those who don’t want to walk. The riverside, with its charming riverboats and river trips, is  beautiful and for families, the Tennessee Aquarium is popular. It claims to be the top aquarium in the USA for overall satisfaction.

Chattanooga is brimming in both Native American and Civil War history. In 1838 Cherokee parties left from Ross’s Landing on its riverfront for the West on what became known as the Trail of Tears.

During the Civil War, the mountains, ridges, river and rail systems made it a strategic battleground . In May, 1864, General William T. Sherman received orders to “cut the south in half’’ and left Chattanooga with over 120,000 troops for the historic march to Atlanta and Savannah. Top Civil War attractions are the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, and the Battles for Chattanooga Museum.

The Chattanooga Choo Choo is no longer a train station but a historic building housing a very impressive hotel.  Worth a look inside to appreciate the grandeur of its former railway age. And then there’s Lookout Mountain, six miles from downtown, which offers a scenic and historic incline railway ride up to the top where there are many points of Civil War interest.

But if you want to take everything in, remember to hire a car!

Chattanooga river view

Lazing on a sunny afternoon

Chattanooga and the Southern Belle

Another Chattanooga river view featuring the Southern Belle riverboat

3 thoughts on “Chattanooga – a great American city that deserves a better transportation system

  1. Roger Thomas

    Dear Peter. Thanks for your nice article about Chattanooga. So glad you were able to get past the sorry welcome at the bus station and see and enjoy our wonderful city and area. Yes, I live here, but like you, have traveled extensively in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. I am embarrassed and ashamed of what is offered here to non-driving visitors such as you. But it is what it is. Hopefully, your article may make a difference. So thanks for telling it straight. This really is a great place to live, and visit. Hope you will come again.

  2. William Watts

    Dear Peter, I am disappointed to hear of your experience after arriving in Chattanooga. As with most cities, it appears that the taxi service that do operate from airports do charge a higher premium for their service. But what is surprising is that the person you spoke with, was not knowledgeable on the services to our visitors. I am glad you were able to sort these services out, and hopefully you were welcomed as you traveled around Chattanooga. I enjoyed reading several articles in your blog, and will be following you as you travel. Best wishes and Safe Travels, William.

  3. Tim Andrews

    While it may not be advertised (or at least not very well) at the airport, CARTA stops at the airport six times between 0640 and 1830. This route goes both to Lee Highway where you can transfer to a route #4 bus and also downtown via Wilcox Blvd.


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