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CATS says it would cut all express bus routes, reduce others if there is a driver strike

CATS is reducing service on some of its most heavily used bus routes.
Steve Harrison
CATS said a bus driver strike would "significantly impact service."

The Charlotte Area Transit System said Tuesday that a bus driver strike would “significantly impact service” and that the agency would eliminate all express bus routes for commuters if there is a work stoppage.

CATS also said it would prioritize the 13 routes that have the most passengers — if it has enough drivers. Those routes all go uptown on busy corridors like Beatties Ford Road and Central Avenue. The agency would also try and staff routes that go to essential destinations, such as healthcare facilities.

But there's an important caveat: CATS' bus system is run by a third-party company, and the agency says it won't have any warning or more detailed information about how many drivers would be available to work on any given day if there's a strike. So CATS would not be able to necessarily guarantee service on any given route in the event of a driver strike.


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The union that represents bus drivers voted on Saturday to strike after failing to agree to a contract with the private company, RATP Dev, that manages the bus system. CATS has said a work stoppage is not imminent, because under federal law no strike can occur for at least 30 days. That means the earliest a strike could start would be the first or second week in February.

“CATS will not have forewarning from RATP Dev of the number of bus operators that report to work until the time of their shifts,” the transit system said on Twitter. “CATS expects this will significantly impact bus service, and CATS will communicate real-time service changes based on staffing levels.”

Operators for the Lynx Blue Line and Gold Line streetcar are city employees and would not be part of the strike. That rail service would continue. CATS also said paratransit service for people with disabilities would remain.

Transit ridership has fallen sharply in Charlotte over the last decade, with bus ridership down 75% since 2014.

But CATS buses still carry about 18,000 passenger trips a day. A rider who goes to and from their destination is counted as two trips. Most of those riders are low-income, people of color, according to the city. Many don't have any alternative transportation in Charlotte, a car-dependent city.

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 concerned about their pensions and health insurance premiums.

Last year, CATS reduced service on some of its busiest routes because it didn't have enough bus drivers, in part due to the labor shortage that's impacted numerous industries across the nation.

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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.