Metropolitan Transit Commission: July updates and news

Electric BusThe Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) convened again this past Wednesday, July 26, to hear updates on the Transit Work Group, CATS contracts, and bus service planning. For one of the shortest meetings this year, clocking in at only 1 hour and 15 minutes, plenty of information was shared. We have pulled out the highlights for you below.

Top takeaways

  • CATS received a $30M grant from the Federal Transit Administration to replace diesel buses and create more electric charging infrastructure. Congratulations, CATS!
  • CATS has instituted aggressive pay increases for rail and bus operators, ranging from 5-15% on top of base rate pay.
  • Route 74x through Union County will continue to run with service to Indian Trail. However, the route will not continue to Monroe starting on September 29, 2023.
  • Do you take an express bus? CATS is conducting a survey to hear from you!


Transit work group update

Mayor Melinda Bales of Huntersville and Mayor John Higdon of Matthews attended the July 11 Transit Work Group meeting with City of Charlotte staff and elected officials to dig into recent issues that have come to light at CATS. The work group received a presentation from Management Partners that focused on what should take priority going forward, including filling operator vacancies throughout the transportation system.

Both mayors highly encouraged other MTC members to watch the presentation and ensured that the work group would report key performance indicators to the MTC regularly. City Council Member Ed Driggs said he was encouraged to hear from Management Partners that the work group is doing what is necessary to address the identified issues. More concrete updates to come in the next few months.

CATS CEO update

CEO Brent Cagle reported on several ongoing items:

  • In the next two weeks, CATS will complete a contract that will install new technology systems on both the Blue and Gold Line vehicles to prevent derailments.
  • CATS completed the investigation with NCDOT into the May 10, 2023 derailment. There were several small contributing factors including a well-worn track, partially inoperable track greasers, and freshly ground vehicle wheels.
  • Parking garage inspections are complete, but six bridge inspections are on hold until CATS can coordinate right-of-entry and scheduling with intersecting railroads.
  • NCDOT held another unannounced inspection along the Blue Line and did not find any critical safety issues.
  • The fiscal year is closing out, and CATS is expected to end with a surplus. Final numbers will be provided soon.
  • Recruitment of rail and bus operators continues to be a priority. CATS has instituted aggressive pay increases, ranging from 5-15% on top of base rate of pay.
  • CATS and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) met for an opening meeting on July 19 to discuss the two areas for review: financial and operational. The financial review will be completed in three phases (assessment, testing, and reporting) and is expected to be complete in 3.5 months. The operational review is stalled while FTA selects a consultant to conduct the review.
  • CATS received two proposals from bus management organizations, neither of which are the current RATP Dev. Deliberations are underway and CATS staff will keep MTC updated.

CATS FTA grant

Sustainability and Resiliency Manager, Catherine Kummer, announced that CATS won a $30M grant through the FTA’s Low or No Vehicle Emission Program. This grant will allow CATS to replace 31 of the oldest diesel buses, install new electric charging infrastructure, and advance workforce development. In comparison, CATS has received only one other grant through this program for $3M, making this award a ten-fold increase. With CATS’ competitive match, the transit system will see an investment of almost $57M.

This is a huge success and a meaningful step towards helping Charlotte achieve its Strategic Energy Action Plan (SEAP) goals to fight climate change. We applaud CATS staff on this major achievement and will continue to strongly advocate for more initiatives like this that will facilitate the transition to a zero-emission municipal fleet.

CATS service planning

CATS’ Senior Transportation Planner Jason Lawrence updated the MTC on reliability, recruitment, and missed trips.

  • Recruitment and retention is stabilizing, but not to the point where CATS can increase frequency.
  • Around 3% of trips are missed each day, but this varies greatly throughout the week with more missed trips on Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Currently reviewing how to make working on the weekends more appealing to operators.
  • Not expecting to cut frequency further. May even increase service where needed.
  • CATS is conducting a survey of express bus riders to understand how hybrid work is affecting riders’ travel patterns.
  • Overall improvements in ridership compared with January 2022. 9% increase overall and 20% on the express routes.
  • CATS is rethinking how to improve customer experience, including route numbers, colors, and bridging the digital divide.
  • Route 74x through Union County will continue to run with service to Indian Trail. However, the route will not continue to Monroe starting on September 29, 2023.

Action items

The meeting concluded with the approval of two quick action items:

  1. Changes to the Service and Travel Market Policies
    1. Details on pages 123-141 of the agenda.
  2. Independence Busway Restoration Project
    1. Approved adding $550,000 to the project budget to reach the $1.3M needed to move forward with road modifications.
    2. The improved roadways would be used by five CATS express bus routes and result in faster travel time by 15 minutes.

We are thrilled to see CATS prioritizing the transition to electric vehicles and hiring more bus operators. The combination of missed trips and infrequent service is concerning, and we will continue working with CATS on the best path forward. As service ramps back up post-pandemic, we are dedicated to advocating for a transit system that provides fast, frequent, and reliable service for our neighbors.

Watch the meeting recording

View the meeting agenda

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