Charlotte Area Transit System

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Charlotte Area Transit System
Charlotte CATS logo.png
ParentCharlotte-Mecklenburg (Charmeck)
Headquarters300 East Trade Street, Charlotte, North Carolina
LocaleCity of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County
Service areaMetrolina
Service typeBus and Light Rail (as LYNX)
Routes50 local, 19 express
Stations24 (LYNX)
45 park and rides
Fleet501 (total)
Daily ridership83,100[1]
Fuel typeDiesel, Hybrid
OperatorRATP Dev (bus)
Charlotte Area Transit System (rail)
Chief executiveJohn M. Lewis, Jr.

The Charlotte Area Transit System, commonly referred to as CATS, is the public transit system in Charlotte, North Carolina, United States. It operates bus and rail service around the Charlotte metropolitan area. This includes a bus rapid transit line called the Sprinter, a light rail line called the LYNX Blue Line, and a streetcar line called CityLYNX Gold Line.

John M. Lewis, Jr. was selected as the new CEO of CATS in July 2015 and started the job in mid-August 2015.[2] Lewis replaced Carolyn Flowers, who had served in the role since 2010 and resigned to take a position at the Federal Transit Administration.[3][4]


Charlotte Area Transit, Average Daily Ridership, All Modes, 2002-2016

Bus transportation was provided by the Charlotte Department of Transportation under the branding known as Charlotte Transit, which was in existence from 1976 to 1999.[5] (Charlotte Transit is not to be confused with Charlotte Area Transit System despite the similarity in name.) Most routes were local, with virtually no express service to outlying areas with the exception of two express routes. Service became inadequate to serve the rapidly growing population, especially in the southern and eastern portions, which began to be built up during 1990s. A referendum was passed in 1998 by Mecklenburg County citizens to approve a 1/2% sales tax to improve public transportation over the next few years. The move created the Metropolitan Transit Commission in 1999 to oversee improvements in Charlotte and nearby suburbs and bordering counties. It eventually led to consolidation of Charlotte Transit and MTC in 2000, forming the new Charlotte Area Transit System.[6] Since then, more express routes were added to the edges of Mecklenburg County and some local bus service was expanded, especially to the fast-growing South Charlotte. On August 19, 2007 the Charlotte Observer revealed that mass transit on Charlotte's existing bus-only system has increased ridership by 66% since 1998, but its operating budget had increased by 170% after adjusting for inflation.[7]


CATS bus service serves Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, with service in Charlotte, Davidson, Huntersville, Cornelius, Matthews, Pineville, and Mint Hill.

CATS operates local routes within the city of Charlotte, with the majority of those multiple-stop routes serving the Charlotte Transportation Center in Uptown. While crosstown service is scarce, other routes that do not serve Uptown mainly connect directly between LYNX rail stations and outlying neighborhoods. The transit system has since built three more transit centers to serve different parts of the city in the mid-2000s: the Eastland Community Transit Center in East Charlotte located near the now-closed Eastland Mall, the SouthPark Community Transit Center in South Charlotte located inside the parking garage of South Park Mall, and the Rosa Parks Community Transit Center in North Charlotte located near Johnson C. Smith University.[8]

Express buses in the CATS system serve Union County, Concord, Gastonia, and Rock Hill, South Carolina.

CATS also operates the Special Transportation Service (STS) which provides transportation to people with disabilities certified as eligible based on the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines. STS provides service during the same times and in the same locations as the fixed route bus service.

The CATS system transports over 80,000 weekday riders across all of its services. Ridership for Fiscal Year 2010 reached over 24 million riders, a yearly amount not experienced in Charlotte since the late 1940s.

CATS, in conjunction with NCDOT, operates an HOV lane on the expressway portion of Independence Boulevard. The HOV lane has been in operation since 1998.

Active fleet[edit]

CATS operates with a fleet of 322 buses on 73 bus routes.[9]

Bus Manufacturer Model Year Fleet Numbers Thumbnail Notes
NovaBus LFS 2000 852–914 (AND 799) Charlotte Area Transit System bus 873 on route 4.jpg All retired by September 2017
MCI D-Series / The American Classic 2001 500–510
Gillig Phantom 2003 511–599 Cats51154X.jpg Buses 512,513,514, and 515 were retired June 2018.
Gillig Advantage, or "low floor" 2004 940–960 Buses # 940-949 were retired July 2018
Gillig Advantage "low floor" Hybrid 2005 2501–2502 First hybrid buses added to fleet.
Gillig BRT 29' 2006 600–690? These buses operate on community shuttles and low-ridership routes.
Gillig BRT 2007 961–968
Gillig BRT 2008 400–410
Gillig BRT Hybrid 2009 2901–2905 CATS2903Airport.jpg Buses assigned to airport "Sprinter" service.
Gillig BRT 2010 1001–1020
Gillig BRT 2011 1021–1043
Gillig BRT 2011 2111-2116
Gillig BRT 2012 1044–1071
Gillig BRT 2014 1072-1073 These replaced Novabuses 894 and 899.
Gillig BRT Hybrid 2017 2121-2128 CATS212711K.jpg These buses have the appearance of the older Gillig Advantage "Low Floor" Models. These newer style feature the old front fascia and updated rear taillights. The interior and windows are styled like the newer models such as the BRT.
Gillig BRT Plus 2018 1088-1096
MCI D4500 Hybrid 2016 1501-1507 CATS1505D4500.jpg Express Route Only Coach
Gillig BRT Plus 2018 2129-2144 Possibly still taking delivery of some units

Retired fleet[edit]

Gillig Phantom 1997 700–720 All of these 1997 Gillig Phantoms were retired by February 2010.
NovaBus LFS 1998 800–844 All were retired by July 2012. NOTE: 800 was actually 807 until it was renumbered for unknown reasons.
NovaBus LFS 1999 845–851 All were retired by November 2011
NovaBus LFS 2000 852-899 852-890, and 898 were retired by August 2012. 891,892,893,894, and 899 were retired in early 2014. All retired by September 2017.
Gillig Advantage, or "low floor" 2002 915–930 All were retired by June of 2018. These had the blue plastic seats like the Nova buses, unlike the similar 2004 models

Route designations[edit]

  • 1–89 – local routes in various areas of the city
  • 40X–88X – express routes (specifically designated with an X) from uptown to various park and ride lots
  • 90–99 – Circulator routes in North Mecklenburg (and formerly Matthews/Mint Hill) that will deviate for pick ups up to 3/4 of a mile from the route with advanced notice.
  • 200–299 – community circulator routes
  • 501 – LYNX Blue Line (though not generally listed for users)


Discontinued routes[edit]

  • 18 Selwyn Ave. (Low ridership, replaced with 6 and 20. Route 18 returns as a Paw Creek/Rosa Parks Crosstown to connect with routes 1, 2, 7, 8, 26, 88x)
  • 25 Clanton/Midtown ( Replaced with 6,10,16,30, and 235)
  • 28 McAlway Road (Divested between 27 and 15)
  • 31 Southside Crosstown (probably low ridership, replaced with 30)
  • 32 CPCC Southwest Shuttle (discontinued in the early 2000s, replaced with 12 until 2006, and then replaced to 56)
  • 33 North Meck Connector (Replaced by 77X North Mecklenburg Express Saturday service; 77X Saturday service discontinued in 2009.)
  • 36 Midtown (Low ridership; replaced with 25)
  • 44 Fort Mill (Low ridership; replaced with 42)
  • 45X Carmel Road Express (Low ridership; replaced with 62X
  • 50X Pawtuckett Express (discontinued in the late 1990s, replaced with 238 until 2009, and then replaced to 1P)[10]
  • 55X Wilkinson Blvd Express (discontinued in the early 2000s)[10]
  • 59 Scaleybark/Marsh (First Ward Shuttle) (Low ridership)
  • 66X Sharon Road Express (replaced to 20)
  • 74 Uni-Park (Discontinued in early 2003 due to ridership strains, replaced to 81x and later 22 and 54x)[11]
  • 78X Celanese Rock Hill Express (Financial constraints)
  • 79X Concord Mills Express Plus (Saturday Service) (Financial constraints and low ridership)
  • 81X Wachovia Express (Financial contraints)
  • 83X Mooresville Express (Financial constraints)
  • 84 Gold Rush Orange Line (Possibly Low ridership; replaced by 2, 5 and 86)
  • 87 Gold Rush Blue Line (Low ridership)
  • 89 South End Shuttle (Low ridership)
  • 94 Mint Hill-Matthews Shuttle (Low ridership; replaced by 51)
  • 95 Northside Shuttle (??? (possibly financial constraints), Divested between 7N and 22)
  • 96 Village Rider-Davidson (Low ridership; replaced by 97)
  • 102 Arrowood Dial -A-Ride (Replaced by LYNX Feeder routes 24, 56 and 57)
  • 200 Trinity Park (Low ridership; replaced by 7N)
  • 201 Garden Park (Replaced by 13 and partially 7)
  • 202 Washington Heights (Low ridership)
  • 203 University Park (Low ridership)
  • 204 Lasalle Street (replaced by 3)
  • 220 Windsor Park (Replaced by 9)
  • 231 Druid Hills/Double Oaks (Replaced by 21 and 26)
  • 232 Grier Heights (Possibly Low ridership; replaced by 39)
  • 233 CPCC Northeast Campus (originally to Tryon Hills/Orr Road) (Replaced by 3)
  • 234 Cityview (Low ridership, replaced by 34, 235 and partially 1)
  • 236 Revolution Park (Low ridership, replaced by 16 and 25)
  • 238 Paw Creek (Low ridership; replaced by 1)
  • 249 UNCC / JW Clay (Replaced by UNCC Gold Rush lines 49, Nugget and 50)
  • 251 Wachovia CIC Shuttle (Discontinued in early 2004(?) due to ridership strains, replaced to 29 and 54x)[12]
  • MOBIE Southpark Shuttle (Discontinued in the early 2000s, replaced to 19, 20, 29, 30, 57 and 60)
  • 590 Airport Connecter/Northlake (Low ridership)


LYNX Blue Line[edit]

Charlotte LYNX, Average Daily Ridership, Nov 2007 - Oct 2016

On February 22, 2006, the Charlotte Area Transit System announced that its rapid rail lines will be called the "Lynx." The name fits in with the city’s cat theme (the NFL team is the Carolina Panthers and the NBA team was known as the Charlotte Bobcats when the name was chosen); also, "Lynx" is a homophone of "links", and was mainly chosen because the light rail is about "connectivity."

The rapid rail cars are black, silver and blue, the colors of the Carolina Panthers. Gold will appear around the "Lynx" logo to tie in the history of the Charlotte region being home to the first major U.S. Gold Rush.

The original light rail system used 16 Siemens S70 train cars [13] acquired for $50 million.[14] In 2012, after 4 years of operation, the trains had to be repaired at the Siemens facility in California for an estimated cost of $400,000 each.

The systems development was led by Michael Kozak of the state's Department of Transportation and is the only commuter rail system in the two Carolinas.

On November 24, 2007 the LYNX Blue Line opened. It runs 9.6 miles (15.5 km) between Uptown Charlotte and stops short of Pineville, using a railroad right-of-way paralleling South Boulevard in its entirety. The line has 15 stations.[15] The 9.6 miles (15.4 km) line runs from its northern terminus in Uptown before traversing South End and paralleling South Boulevard to its southern terminus just north of Interstate 485 at the Pineville city limits.[15][16] It became the first major rapid rail service of any kind in North Carolina, and began operating seventy years after a previous Charlotte streetcar system was disbanded in 1938, in favor of motorized bus transit.[16][17]

CityLYNX Gold Line[edit]

A 1.5-mile (2.4 km) streetcar line, the first segment of the CityLYNX Gold Line, commenced service on July 14, 2015.[18] This section runs from the Charlotte Transportation Center / Arena station to Hawthorne Lane & 5th Street.

Gold Line is a planned 9.9-mile modern streetcar route running from Rosa Parks Community Transit Center, through Uptown Charlotte, down Central Avenue and terminating at Eastland Community Transit Center. A Federal Urban Circulator Grant was awarded in July 2010, allowing construction of phase one, a 1.5-mile segment between the Charlotte Transportation Center in Uptown and Presbyterian Hospital on Elizabeth Avenue. It opened on 14 July 2015; the second phase is scheduled to open in 2019.[19][20]

Future service[edit]

A blue and gray train stopped at a covered, side platformed station with several passengers entering.
Boarding a southbound train at Stonewall Station

Future expansion includes plans for light rail, streetcars and bus rapid transit along the corridors in the 2030 Transit Corridor System Plan adopted in 2006 by Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC).[21] On May 6, 2013, a 30-member transit funding task force released a draft report in which they estimated it would cost $3.3 billion to build the remaining transit corridors, and $1.7 billion to operate and maintain the lines through 2024. To fund the build-out by sales taxes alone would require a 0.78 cent increase in the sales tax, which would need to be approved by the state General Assembly. The committee recommended any sales tax increase be limited to 0.5 cent and other methods used to raise funds; some suggested methods included:

  • Using the federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TFIA) to quickly begin construction. TFIA loans could pay for 33 percent of the streetcar project and 30 percent of the rapid transit line along Independence Boulevard. It could allow CATS to begin collecting new property taxes from projects built along the rail line, which could be used to pay off the loans.
  • Expanding advertising on train cars and buses, possibly selling naming rights and sponsorships.
  • Entering into partnership with a private company to help finance part of the project.[22]

Although build-out of the entire system has been estimated for completion by 2034,[23] by July 2015, the Charlotte Area Transit System reported it lacked the funds to support any future transit projects apart from the already budgeted 2.5-mile long Phase 2 segment of the CityLYNX Gold Line.[24]

Finished construction[edit]

Blue Line Extension[edit]

A 9.4-mile (15.1 km) extension of the present 9.6-mile (15.4 km) segment, oiginally referred to as the "Northeast Corridor", added 11 stations between Uptown and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.[23] Originally, completion of the extension was estimated to cost $1.12 billion, including an additional 1.2-mile (1.9 km) of track and 2 stations north of UNC Charlotte, ending at I-485 just south of Cabarrus County. However, due to the effects of the late 2000s – early 2010s recession, CATS voted to shorten the line and reduce the cost to $977 million.

The extension is intended to carry an estimated 24,500 weekday boardings by 2035 and serves 4 park and ride stations.[25] City transportation and planning officials have predicted the new line could lead to the construction of 10,000 new housing units, as well as the development of nearly four million square feet of offices and 1.3 million square feet of retail space.[26] On July 18, 2013, the official groundbreaking took place near the 9th Street Station, with the mayor of Charlotte Patsy Kinsey, N.C. Governor Pat McCrory and other officials in attendance.[27] The extension opened on March 16, 2018.[28]


CityLYNX Gold Line Extension[edit]

Two further segments of the CityLYNX Gold Line streetcar line, totaling 8.4-mile (13.5 km), have been planned. Phase 2 will be using the 6 new Siemens S70 hybrid streetcars for $40 million and will replace the green and yellow Gomaco replica vehicles.[29] The CityLYNX Gold Line Phase 2 project is set to break ground in January 2017 with revenue service beginning in 2020.

When complete, the line will connect the University Park area of west Charlotte with Eastland Mall in east Charlotte by way of Uptown Charlotte, in a primarily east-west direction. Proposals call for its completion by 2023.[23] CATS estimates that the completed route will have an average daily ridership of between 14,200 and 16,700 passengers by 2030.[30] Groundbreaking for the initial 1.5-mile segment took place on December 12, 2012 in front of Presbyterian Hospital, with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Mayor Foxx and other officials in attendance.[31] The initial 1.5 mile (2.41 kilometer) segment (Phase 1) between Time Warner Cable Arena and Presbyterian Hospital opened on July 14, 2015. A further 2.5 mile (4.02 kilometer) segment (Phase 2) from the Charlotte Transportation Center/TWC Arena to French Street, and from Presbyterian Hospital to Hawthorne Lane has received funding. Construction of this segment is scheduled to begin by 2016, and to be open by late 2019.[32][33] The third and final phase between Hawthorne Lane and Eastland CTC, and from French Street to Rosa Parks CTC, is scheduled for completion by 2023 at a cost of $231 million.[23]


Silver Line[edit]

The Silver Line is a proposed 13.5-mile (21.7 km) rapid transit corridor to be operated as bus rapid transit (BRT) (or possibly as a light rail line) between the CPCC Levine Campus in Matthews and the proposed Gateway Station in Uptown Charlotte. Proposals call for it to be complete through Idlewild Road by 2022, Sardis Road North by 2024 and finally to CPCC Levine by 2026.[23] As aligned, the completed line will have 16 stations and be completed at an estimated cost of $582 million.[23] By October 2012, the MTC had decided in favor of a busway on interior lanes of the highway.[34] In May 2013, however, a 30-member funding task force suggested a light rail line for the proposed route, at an estimated cost of $1.7 billion.[22] So far, no definite plans to begin construction have been made.

West Corridor[edit]

The West Corridor is a proposed 6.4-mile (10.3 km) streetcar line, connecting Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in west Charlotte with Uptown Charlotte. Proposals call for completion by 2034.[23] With a completion date over two decades away, in 2008 CATS announced enhanced bus service along this corridor to serve as a placeholder until the line can be constructed.[35] Called Sprinter, the service began in September 2009 and features fewer stops and timing similar to that of the future streetcar route.[36]

Red Line[edit]

The Red Line is a proposed, but effectively discontinued 25-mile (40 km) commuter rail line. To be constructed along existing Norfolk Southern tracks, the line was intended to provide service to the towns of Huntersville, Cornelius, and Davidson in northern Mecklenburg County. The line was to be serviced by diesel multiple unit trains, and the southern terminus was the proposed Gateway Station in Uptown Charlotte.[23] On October 17, 2012, the N.C. DOT, the Red Line Task Force, and CATS requested Norfolk Southern to conduct a study of the Red Line concept. As the Red Line would have utilized the NS O-Line between Charlotte and Mooresville, the study intended to determine if and how both freight and passenger services could use the same line while allowing normal freight services to continue. At a meeting of the task force on October 24, it was estimated the study could be initiated by late January 2013 and completed by early 2014, after which further feasibility studies and projections could be made.[37] On June 25, 2014, following the completion and release of the feasibility study, CATS officials said the Red Line would be too costly and complicated to build. Several reasons were provided, including:

  • The continued refusal of Norfolk Southern to share its existing trackage with CATS, which would necessitate the construction of a railway line parallel to the NS rails. This would increase the overall project cost by $215 million and cause "multiple disruptions to adjacent communities", as building a parallel rail line would involve construction costs, right-of-way purchases, and the complete rebuilding of all road intersections along the proposed line.
  • The project's ineligibility for federal funding due to low ridership projections.
  • The inability of CATS to fund the Red Line on its own.

Despite the negative assessments of the feasibility study, the Metropolitan Transit Commission, including the Red Line task force, has not taken any official steps to disband the project.[38]

Former service[edit]

Charlotte Trolley[edit]

Charlotte Trolley operated within Uptown Charlotte from August 30, 1996 to June 28, 2010. The heritage trolley used vintage replica trolleys, serving 11 stations from Atherton Mill to 9th Street. Its operation was shared between the City of Charlotte and Charlotte Trolley Inc., a non-profit organization. The successes of the trolley led to the LYNX Blue Line light rail along the same right-of-way.

2002–2010 financial and ridership data[edit]

Year Passenger trips
2010 24,355,191
2009 26,034,078
2008 23,199,350
2007 19,757,737
2006 19,156,590
2005 17,773,753
2004 20,875,635
2003 18,888,550
2002 16,587,199
  • 1997–2005: Service Consumption Versus Costs: (costs adjusted for inflation at 3.5% per year)
    Ridership(unlinked trips): +52%
    Operational cost per passenger trip: +66%
    Operational cost per vehicle mile: +6%
    Operational cost per vehicle hour: +16%

Source: CATS 2010 Annual Report, National Transit Database'


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  2. ^ "John Lewis Jr. will be the new CATS executive director". Retrieved 2015-10-09.
  3. ^ "Muth named interim director of CATS". Charlotte Area Transit System. December 18, 2014. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
  4. ^ Harrison, Steve (December 8, 2014). "Carolyn Flowers leaving CATS for federal appointment". The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ The Charlotte Observer – Steve Harrison (2007-08-19). "How Well is the Bus System Working?".
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Charlotte Area Transit System – Fast Facts". Retrieved 12 April 2012.
  10. ^ a b,%201991.pdf
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Siemens S70 Data Sheet" (PDF).
  14. ^ "Repairs for LYNX trains to cost $6.5M". January 6, 2012. Retrieved 2017-01-23.
  15. ^ a b Harrison, Steve (November 24, 2007). "A momentous arrival: After opening-day hoopla, what's ahead for Lynx?". The Charlotte Observer. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  16. ^ a b "LYNX Blue Line South Corridor Light Rail Project Description". Charlotte Area Transit System. Archived from the original on 2008-06-05. Retrieved 2007-02-23.
  17. ^ Rhee, Foon (January 19, 1988). "Is a light rail system in Charlotte's future?". The Charlotte Observer. pp. 1B.
  18. ^ Harrison, Portillo, Steve, Ely (July 14, 2015). "Anthony Foxx gives passionate speech to open streetcar; service starts at 1 p.m.". The Charlotte Observer.
  19. ^ McMillan, Therese (14 July 2015). "Striking Gold in Charlotte". U.S. Department of Transportation. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
  20. ^ Harrison, Steve; Portillo, Ely (14 July 2015). "Charlotte streetcar begins service on 1.5-mile run". The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
  21. ^ "2030 Transit Corridor System Plan". Charlotte Area Transit System. Archived from the original on 2008-06-08. Retrieved 18 Jun 2008.
  22. ^ a b Harrison, Steve (6 May 2013). "Group suggests new transit tax, private help". The Charlotte Observer.
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h "Destination 2030". Charlotte Area Transit System. Retrieved 25 Jun 2007.
  24. ^ Harrison, Steve (14 July 2015). "New CATS chief in funding jam". The Charlotte Observer.
  25. ^ "Blue Line Extension Fact Sheet" (PDF).
  26. ^ Frazier, Eric (August 30, 2014). "Dirt moving for light rail to UNCC – raising high hopes for development". The Charlotte Observer.
  27. ^ Haggerty, Neil (July 18, 2013). "LYNX Blue Line light rail extension breaks ground". The Charlotte Observer.
  28. ^ "Charlotte announces opening date for light rail expansion". The News & Observer. 9 January 2018. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  29. ^ "Construction and vehicle contracts awarded for CityLYNX Gold Line Phase 2 project". November 29, 2016.
  30. ^ Rubin, Richard (June 29, 2006). "City eyes east-west streetcar". The Charlotte Observer. pp. 4B.
  31. ^ Bethea, April (12 Dec 2012). "Despite uncertain future, Charlotte breaks ground on streetcar". The Charlotte Observer.
  32. ^ CityLynx Gold Line Fact Sheet: July 2013
  33. ^ CityLynx Gold Line Update: May 2014
  34. ^ Harrison, Steve (15 Oct 2012). "Light-rail extension moves to fast track; CATS to announce federal funding for uptown-to-UNCC line". The Charlotte Observer.
  35. ^ Sullivan, Karen (25 May 2008). "Bus to airport may improve". The Charlotte Observer. p. 1B.
  36. ^ Harrison, Steve (14 Sep 2009). "Will Uptown workers fly out via Sprinter?". The Charlotte Observer. p. 1B.
  37. ^ Light Rail Task Force Agenda - Summary, October 24, 2012
  38. ^ Harrison, Steve (June 26, 2014). "Charlotte commuter train price jumps by $215M". The Charlotte Observer.

External links[edit]