Named famously after Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Charlotte, N.C., is one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities. The Queen City’s thriving and diverse population, in conjunction with its booming economy, has created a transit-supportive community for the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS).
The largest transit system between Atlanta and Washington, D.C., CATS operates over 316 buses on over 70 local, express and regional bus routes. Providing over 25 million customer trips each year, CATS has expanded beyond a bus-only transit agency. In recent years, CATS has added light rail and streetcar service, which has increased ridership exponentially.
In 2007, CATS opened the LYNX Blue Line — N.C.’s first light rail. Upon opening, projected ridership was exceeded and continues to grow. With a fleet of over 24 light rail vehicles, travelers and residents alike can travel 9.6 miles south via rail from Charlotte’s city center. In the years since it’s opening, Charlotte has seen nearly $1.4 billion in transit-oriented development along the Blue Line corridor. Areas such as the South End neighborhood are continuing to expand today as new restaurants, shopping centers and housing is developed.
In July 2015, the CityLYNX Gold Line opened, bringing streetcar back to Charlotte after a 77-year hiatus. The streetcar travels 1.5 miles from Charlotte’s city center to one of its most historic neighborhoods.
CATS’ daily operations also include vanpool service, as well as door-to-door paratransit services.
To accommodate the quickly growing population and need for mobility in the Charlotte metropolitan area, CATS aims to provide more transit options than ever before. “CATS is determined to advance the vision of the Metropolitan Transit Commission’s 2030 Transit Corridor System Plan,” noted CATS CEO John Lewis.
CATS will soon open an extension of the LYNX Blue Line, a second phase of the CityLYNX Gold Line, and has made great strides in the future development of a multimodal union station called the Charlotte Gateway Station.
Blue Line Extension
The LYNX Blue Line Extension (BLE) is a 9.3-mile extension of the Blue Line that extends from 7th Street Station in Center City through the NoDA (North Davidson) and university areas, terminating on the UNC Charlotte campus. Since construction began in 2013, the City of Charlotte has already begun to see development occur along the corridor making the initial estimate of $350 million in TOD a conservative one.
CityLYNX Gold Line
Construction is set to begin this fall on CityLYNX Gold Line Phase 2. Phase 2 will extend the Phase 1 segment by 2.5 miles on the east and west ends of the line, creating a four-mile system. With the addition of 11 new stops, the Phase 2 project will also replace the current replica Gomaco trolleys with modern streetcar vehicles. With an anticipated opening of December 2019, Phase 2 will serve as an engine for economic growth by connecting key neighborhoods and maximizing Charlotte’s development opportunities.
Charlotte Gateway Station
In fall 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) awarded the City of Charlotte and the North Carolina Department of Transportation a $25 million federal grant to assist in building a union station — the Charlotte Gateway Station in center city. This comprehensive multimodal transportation center will bring together transportation services, such as CityLYNX Gold Line Streetcar, CATS bus service, LYNX Red Line Commuter rail, and intercity transportation, including Amtrak trains and Greyhound service. Expected to be operational in 2021, the project is currently in preliminary phases.
Blue Line Expansion
In conjunction with the extension, CATS has also been awarded a TIGER III grant from the U.S. DOT for capacity enhancements along the current LYNX Blue Line. This project, the Blue Line Capacity Expansion Project, will lengthen four existing light rail station platforms to accept three-car trains and power supply substations to operate longer, more frequent trains.
CATS recently launched a mobile app to further enhance safety on CATS trains, buses, and at facilities and bus stops. The “CATS See Say” app, which rolled out in February, allows riders to quickly submit reports of suspicious or criminal activity containing photos, video, text descriptions and GPS maps, pinpointing the problem area. Reports submitted via the app are submitted directly to CATS Safety and Security team and law enforcement, which is staffed 24 hours-a-day.
Prior to the LYNX Blue Line opening in 2007, CATS worked diligently to connect neighborhoods beyond walking distance to the new light rail line. CATS added 12 bus feeder routes, to neighborhoods beyond walking distance to the Blue Line, which tremendously benefitted system connectivity. As progress is made on the LYNX Blue Line Extension, CATS has started considering the same opportunity. CATS Bus Operations is currently conducting the 2017-2022 Countywide Transit Services Plan study. Through this study, CATS aims to better connect the City’s northern neighborhoods to the future LYNX Blue Line Extension light rail stations.
Over the next 12 months, CATS will embark on an overall fare collection system upgrade. The fareboxes on CATS buses are over 18 years old and frequently experience outages. The new Genfare fareboxes will support contactless payment, mobile app tickets, barcoding, magnetic passes and cash. In addition, Genfare’s Venstar Ticket Vending Machines will be installed on the LYNX Blue Line Extension and replace the TVMs on the existing Blue Line.