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CATS says its bus drivers have voted to strike; walkout could happen in 30 days

Charlotte Area Transit System plans to convert its mostly diesel bus fleet to compressed natural gas beginning in two years.
Steve Harrison/WFAE
Charlotte Area Transit System bus drivers voted to strike on Saturday.

The Charlotte Area Transit System said Monday that its bus drivers voted this weekend to strike, though the transit system said a work stoppage is not imminent for at least a few more weeks.

The union vote happened Saturday. CATS said the SMART Union must file their vote to strike with the federal government, and that a strike cannot occur for at least 30 days after that.

In a statement on Twitter, CATS said “both parties continue to negotiate in good faith” and that the transit system has “contingency plans for reduced workforce impacts.”

It's the latest challenge for a bus system that's struggled with falling ridership and staffing shortages. CATS cut back on bus service last year, slashing trips to try and increase reliability because the transit system didn't have enough drivers to staff all its routes.

Since its peak in 2013, CATS has lost more than 75% of bus riders. And the trend doesn’t show any sign of stopping, even as the pandemic abates. So far this year, CATS' overall ridership is at 49% of its pre-pandemic levels. But rail ridership is up 87% this year, while bus ridership is still falling — down 10% in 2022, according to a recent report.

Chart of Annual bus ridership showing declines

Third-party contractor

The strike would not impact the Lynx Blue Line or the Gold Line streetcar. Those drivers work directly for the city and are prohibited from striking under state law.

But in a more complicated arrangement, bus drivers work for a third-party contractor, RATP Dev. They are unionized and are allowed to strike.

CATS carries about 1 million passenger trips each month. About half of those are on buses that would be impacted by a walkout.

WSOC-TV reported the vote to strike was 256-14.


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In September, Charlotte bus drivers rejected a contract that would have included a nearly 11% raise, but would also reduce the number of days drivers can take off without a reason.

The current contract pays first-year bus drivers about $18.80 an hour. The new proposed contract calls for new drivers to make $20.80 an hour.

The union has also said they need better security due to the dangers of driving, especially late at night. A CATS bus driver, Ethan Rivera, was killed in a road-rage shooting last year, prompting increased concerns.

WSOC-TV also reported that drivers are also concerned about their pensions and health insurance premiums.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.