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CATS restarting some express bus routes in bid to lure back riders

A CATS bus.
Charlotte Area Transit System
A CATS bus.

The Charlotte Area Transit System will restart three discontinued express bus routes on Nov. 28 as the agency tries to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and falling ridership.

The three express routes mainly serve commuters heading uptown. CATS cut back on express bus routes during the pandemic and slashed bus schedules this year in response to a driver shortage that made service unreliable.

Now, the transit agency is reinstating the Steele Creek Express, the Arboretum/Waverly Express and the Mountain Island Express with three morning trips and three evening trips each.

CATS has seen bus ridership plunge in recent years, falling by roughly 75% since 2014. But express routes are a bit of a bright spot. While local bus ridership inched up less than 1% last month, ridership on the express routes more than doubled from a year ago. There were over 15,000 express bus trips in October, probably driven in part by returning office workers.

Still, CATS has a long way to go. Those 15,000 trips represent just 25% of the trips on express buses in October 2019, the last comparable pre-pandemic month.

Overall, CATS recorded 488,220 local bus trips in October. That's compared to just over 1 million in October 2019.

CATS also said it will modify some of the returning express routes slightly to allow for faster trips. The modifications include:

41x – Steele Creek Express

The 41x will provide service to Carolinas Medical Center Steelecroft, the Walker Branch Park and Ride at the Rivergate shopping center and the Steele Creek Presbyterian Church Park and Ride.

The route will no longer serve the Whitehall Commons Park and Ride, or stop along South Tryon Street between Interstate 485 and Woodlawn Road.

88x – Mountain Island Express

The 88x will serve the Coulwood Shopping Center Park and Ride; Cooks Memorial Presbyterian Church Park and Ride; and the new Riverbend Village Park and Ride, located behind the Dunkin' along Mt. Holly Huntersville Road.

Service to the Callabridge Walmart will be discontinued.

Map of a bus route
CATS Route 41X
Bus route map
CATS Route 88X

Ely Portillo has worked as a journalist in Charlotte for over a decade. Before joining WFAE, he worked at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and the Charlotte Observer.