At the January 24th meeting of the Metropolitan Transit Commission, we learned about a lot of ways that CATS is addressing concerns about vehicle maintenance, staffing, and service reliability.
Here's a recap of 7 key updates:
1. More bus trips are being taken. Bus ridership has trended consistently upward since 2022. As of October 2023, the number of passenger trips increased by 43% compared to January 2022.
2. Rail ridership also increased in 2023. The average number of daily riders doubled compared to the early months of 2022, with this trend driven strongly by ridership on the Blue Line during peak times. Ridership on the Gold Line streetcar remains weak. This is likely because it only runs every 30 minutes, while the Blue Line runs every 20 minutes.
3. We're starting to see how hybrid work is influencing transit use. There is a noticeable spike in ridership from Tuesday to Thursday, contrasting with comparatively lower numbers on Mondays and Fridays.
4. Fewer missed trips means greater reliability for riders. The percentage of missed trips has fallen from around 10 to 2%. Ideally, CATS would like this to be 0. Service reliability is directly impacted by lack of staffing, so CATS will continue to track and report on staffing vacancies as a standard metric.
5. Staffing vacancy rates have improved. CATS currently has about a 19% vacancy rate (13-15% is City average), but this is much better than the vacancy rates in the 40-50% range when interim CEO Brent Cagle began to lead the department 13 months ago. There is still a high vacancy rate in rail car maintenance because it takes 18 months for these staff to become certified, but CATS has seen a sharp increase in the number of trainees.
6. Rail and bridge maintenance is being addressed. Following the discovery of a flat spot on the wheels of a light rail vehicle, CATS received a letter from NCDOT directing CATS to remove all 100 and 200 series vehicles until wheel bearing maintenance can be done on them. This is not expected to impact rail service to riders. CATS is also nearing the completion of inspecting all of the bridges used by its rail service, and is only awaiting final safety-related coordination with the railroads on whose property the last few bridges remain to be inspected.
7. Sales tax receipts are projected to remain strong this year. The FY24 model forecasts year-end receipts of $162,093,785 is $12,093,785 (8.06%) above the FY-2024 budget target of $150,000,000. As you can see from the graphic below, the countywide half-cent sales tax is by far the most substantial single source of revenue for CATS.
There was a lively conversation among committee members about how to ensure that CATS has stable and sufficient funding to meet its current service needs and expand in the future.
Sustain Charlotte strongly supports a new countywide one-cent sales tax that will not only fund expansion of CATS bus and rail service, but will also bring much-needed bike lanes, sidewalks, greenways, and other investments that will make it safe and convenient to travel without a car.