The last few years have not fared well for the future of transit in Charlotte.
From reliability issues and lackluster ridership on its streetcar, to hundreds of missed bus trips, to a once-ambitious transit plan leaders are likely to slim down — the list of challenges facing the system is a long one.
Here’s a timeline of the Charlotte Area Transit System’s recent troubles:
- Of note: Most transit in Charlotte is funded by a half cent sales tax, which was approved by voters in 1998. We’ll explain why that’s still a sticking point for some.
March 2020: The pandemic hits, and transit ridership drops off a cliff. CATS makes cuts in service as a result.
December 2020: A task force led by former mayor Harvey Gantt presents the Charlotte MOVES recommendations to the public, which included new light rail and commuter rail lines, enhanced bus service, new greenways and bike lanes and road improvements.
- To fund the transit plan, they proposed a 1 cent county sales tax increase.
Late 2020/early 2021: Opposition emerges quickly to the plans from northern Mecklenburg towns and officials. The 1998 sales tax referendum was supposed to fund the Red Line commuter rail to Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson. That line never happened, so voters there feel that the city has not kept its promise.
- The plan relies on railroad company Norfolk Southern sharing its tracks, which it has said it will not do.
August 2021: The expanded LYNX Gold Line streetcar opens after several delays, stretching from Johnson C. Smith University to Plaza Midwood. But it has struggled with frequent delays and low ridership.
February 2022: Bus driver Ethan Rivera is shot and killed, prompting calls from CATS operators for additional safety measures.
May 2022: CATS missed almost 98 trips per day between the beginning of the year and March 31, WBTV reports.
June 2022: CATS reports delays on bus routes, and starts tweeting the number of driver absences daily. CATS CEO John Lewis says they are unexcused absences, but a WBTV investigation later found that the totals the agency tweeted included planned absences too.
July 2022: A private company, RATP Dev, manages most of the day-to-day aspects of bus operations in Charlotte, such as scheduling and labor relations, WBTV reports. RATP Dev has had a contract with the city to do so for years, but many city officials were unaware of the extent of their role before the investigation.
July 2022: CATS has lost 75% of its bus passengers from 2014 to 2022, WFAE reports — a larger share than any of the other transit systems in the top 50 biggest.
Aug. 15, 2022: CATS cuts the frequency on 11 routes and the LYNX Blue Line, and modified several others, to improve reliability in the wake of the driver shortage.
August 2022: Despite placing the blame on operator shortages, CATS has more than 100 buses out of service, WBTV reports. Bus drivers told WBTV they often had to wait for another bus to finish its route so they could start their own.
September 2022: As questions loom over the stalled transit plan, Mayor Vi Lyles acknowledged at a Charlotte Regional Business Alliance event that it may not look like what was originally proposed.
- “In Charlotte, we have a plan and no money,” she said.
September 2022: Lewis tells Axios that RATP Dev, the company that manages Transit Management of Charlotte, has reached a tentative agreement with the union that represents drivers. He says it includes higher pay in an effort to make the industry more attractive to current and new employees.
- Drivers tell Axios that they feel unsafe on the job and their peers are leaving as a result.
Editor’s note: We have updated this story to say that RATP Dev manages day-to-day bus operations including scheduling and labor relations. The company does not manage routes, however.