CATS Seeks Another $32M Despite Declines In Bus Ridership

Aug 11, 2019

The Charlotte Area Transit System wants to expand light rail, which would likely require at least a penny sales tax increase.

That means buy-in from Raleigh and likely county voters. In the meantime, CATS has been losing thousands of bus riders.

Riders board a Charlotte Area Transit System bus in a 2018 file photo.
Credit CATS

In response, CATS revamped its bus routes, adding more cross-town routes so riders don’t have to always make long trips uptown. CATS Chief Executive John Lewis has said steep ridership declines on buses were due in part to what he said was an antiquated hub-and-spoke bus system.

The bus system was revamped in October. So, has it worked?

Local bus routes are still hemorrhaging riders.

CATS doesn’t post all of its monthly ridership reports, but here are the most recent five months. February and December had bigger losses in local bus ridership than in 2018, but in April, March and January, the losses were a little smaller.

April 2019: -7.5% (-10% in 2018)

March 2019: -11.9% (-19% in 2018)

February 2019: -16.7% (-10.5% in 2018)

January 2019: -6% (-14.6% in 2018)

December: -14% (-11.1% in 2017)

In May, Lewis told the Metropolitan Transit Commission that the new cross-town bus routes had “slowed down the decline.” But he said CATS needs to spend $32 million a year on additional bus service to make the system work for riders.

“When it takes 90 minutes to get from origin to destination, three hours of your day each day, you start to make other decisions,”  Lewis said.  

For perspective, CATS spent about $85 million in 2017 to operate its local bus routes.