CATS ridership is up, employees are happier

CATS bus in Uptown

On Wednesday, November 15, the Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) met to receive updates from the transit work group and interim Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) CEO Brent Cagle. Commission members also voted on two action items: a potential budget increase for the Independence Busway project and changes to service on bus routes 57 and 235.

Transit work group update

This work group, led by Matthews Mayor John Higdon and Charlotte City Council member Ed Driggs, was formed earlier this year to address the myriad issues at CATS. During the MTC meeting, Higdon and Driggs shared their recent experience touring CATS facilities and speaking with CATS employees and bus operators. They found that the facilities were impressively clean and the employees take great pride in their jobs. The employees also agreed that things are “much, much better” than they were under the past administration and are grateful for interim CEO Cagle’s leadership.

Higdon and Driggs encouraged the employees to reach out directly to members of the MTC with any concerns they have. Of course, there is still more work to be done, primarily with inventory management and ongoing maintenance, but overall CATS appears to be running smoothly. Driggs recommends keeping the work group together, but only meeting on an as-needed basis.

Commissioner Leigh Altman asked about the status of the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) review of CATS operations. Cagle shared that CATS leadership had a kickoff meeting with the FTA last month and they are currently reviewing documents. The FTA will conduct field work in January and release the two draft reports in late January or February.

Interim CEO report

interim Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) CEO Brent Cagle’s report this month was brief. The percentage of missed trips stayed low at 1.5%, and ridership continues to improve, with ridership up 7% in October 2023 compared with October 2022. The only decrease in ridership came from the Gold Line streetcar. Cagle cautioned the MTC that this decline is likely to continue while the time between trips, also called frequency or headway, is down to 30 minutes. CATS intends to resume 20 minute frequency on the Gold Line as soon as staffing shortages are addressed. 

We would like to see the 20 minute frequency restored as soon as possible. By returning to more frequent service, we are giving streetcar riders more flexibility and more options and thus a better transit experience.

Altman asked a few questions about fatalities and major injuries from the CATS’ October report. Cagle clarified that the one fatality in October was due to a motorcyclist running a red light directly into a CATS bus. He said he will get more details on the 11 reported injuries, though they are likely to be from one crash involving a bus with many people on board.

Action items

Two action items passed unanimously during this meeting. CATS staff gave detailed presentations which can be viewed in the meeting agenda. Highlights are below.

Independence Busway

  • NCDOT plans to convert a lane on Independence Boulevard to a managed lane, but this project is not scheduled any time soon.
  • CATS instead recommends moving forward with a joint CATS/NCDOT project that will allow access to this lane (currently closed) ahead of the managed lane project.
  • The joint project will now cost CATS $1.7 million, which is $400,000 more than previously estimated.
  • CATS needs a budget ordinance from City Council to move this project forward with the new estimated cost.
  • Before taking this to City Council, CATS sought approval from MTC, which MTC granted.

February 2024 Service Changes: Bus Routes 57 and 235

  • Route 57 (Archdale / South Park)
    • Current on time performance is 55%. The systemwide target is 85%.
    • CATS staff recommends adding later weeknight service (after 9pm) and new Sunday service to this route.
    • CATS staff recommends shortening the route slightly to improve on time performance and reliability.
  • Route 235 (Goodwill / Amay James)
    • Current on time performance is 75%. The systemwide target is 85%.
    • Since there were two options to improve this route, CATS staff conducted public outreach during October through in-person events and an online survey.
    • CATS staff recommend adding service on weeknights after 9pm, Saturdays after 4pm, and new service on Sunday.
  • Higdon expressed concern about reducing service. CATS staff indicated that they are aiming to improve on time performance first and then add frequency back in. Cagle also pointed out that every route in the system needs a running time analysis to determine which routes are too long to be serviced effectively. Shorter routes are often more reliable and frequent.
  • Mayor Vi Lyles asked CATS staff to continue reviewing the changes as they are put in place to ensure that we are reaching the stated objectives: reliability and on time performance.

Transit Services Advisory Committee (TSAC) Report

The meeting concluded with a report from TSAC chair Krissy Oechslin. TSAC is happy that the Charlotte fines were recently raised from $25 to $100 for parking in bike lanes, sidewalks, and transit right-of-ways. This has been a problem for years, especially along the Gold Line tracks. Sustain Charlotte advocated heavily for this fine increase – read about it here. TSAC recommends applying this same fine to bus stops so service is not impacted by idling or parked cars.

Oechslin then announced that this was her last TSAC meeting before she moves away. She has been a staunch advocate for transit riders and we are grateful for her work. Her closing remarks mimic our own: “The only way to accommodate the region’s growth is not by building more roads, but to get more people on buses, trains, and bikes, and out of their cars.”

Our Take: We heard lots of good news this month! We’re encouraged to learn that CATS workers feel more supported under Cagle’s leadership, that the FTA review process is moving forward smoothly, and that system-wide ridership numbers are up from last year.

Want to see the meeting for yourself? Watch the meeting here and view the agenda here.

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