Andrea Anderson sat on the downtown shuttle, talking with four Sequoyah High School students who were shadowing her for the day.
They had hopped on the small bus from Courtyard by Marriott for a trip downtown. Ms. Anderson, a general manager at the hotel, and the girls then hopped back on for a trip back.
"The guests at the hotel use it all the time," Ms. Anderson said about the shuttle. "It's a great selling point."
Bus ridership in general rose in Chattanooga as gas prices spiked during the summer. Fixed-route bus ridership grew 6 percent from 2007 to 2008, while the electric shuttle grew 7 percent during the same time period, Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority records show.
Jill Veron, CARTA's director of planning, said the spikes seen were unprecedented.
"It's quite a bit above what we normally record," she said.
The transportation authority already is planning for numbers to rise again, Ms. Veron said. She said there absolutely would be no cuts in the budget.
"I think ridership will go up before the summer," she said. "Who knows what will happen in this economy?"
Roger Russell, who has been a CARTA driver for 30 years, said he definitely saw an increase in passengers over the summer.
"When I was driving, I heard a lot of people tell me they were going to stay because it was so convenient for them," he said.
Greg Ball, a downtown shuttle driver for seven years, agreed. He said CARTA added a route to North Shore that helped increase ridership. Since he started, more and more people use the shuttle, he said.
"On a nice sunny day, it's standing room," he said. "We didn't have that when I first started."
Aboard the shuttle to North Shore, Leo Foster, who lives in Patten Towers, said he rides the shuttle often. He said he sees tourists riding all the time as well as business travelers. It's something that can help bring money to town, he said.
"It's a commodity," he said. "This shuttle is important."
BY THE NUMBERS
1.86 million: Total number of fixed-route riders in 2008
1.76 million: Total fixed-route riders in 2007
912,196: Number of shuttle riders in 2008
852,442: Total shuttle riders in 2007
Source: Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority