Charlotte Area Transit System

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Charlotte Area Transit System
Charlotte CATS logo.png
Parent Charlotte-Mecklenburg (Charmeck)
Headquarters300 East Trade Street, Charlotte, North Carolina
LocaleCity of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County
Service area Metrolina
Service type Bus and Light Rail (as LYNX)
Routes50 local, 19 express
Stations24 (LYNX)
45 park and rides
Fleet501 (total)
Daily ridership83,100 [1]
Fuel typeDiesel, Hybrid
Operator RATP Dev (bus)
Charlotte Area Transit System (rail)
Chief executiveJohn M. Lewis, Jr.

The Charlotte Area Transit System, commonly referred to as CATS, is the public transit system in Charlotte, North Carolina, United States. It operates bus and rail service around the Charlotte metropolitan area. This includes a bus rapid transit line called the Sprinter, a light rail line called the LYNX Blue Line, and a streetcar line called CityLYNX Gold Line.


John M. Lewis, Jr. was selected as the new CEO of CATS in July 2015 and started the job in mid-August 2015. [2] Lewis replaced Carolyn Flowers, who had served in the role since 2010 and resigned to take a position at the Federal Transit Administration. [3] [4]


Charlotte Area Transit, Average Daily Ridership, All Modes, 2002-2016 Charlotte Area Transit Average Daily Ridership All Modes, 2002-2016.jpg
Charlotte Area Transit, Average Daily Ridership, All Modes, 2002-2016

Bus transportation was provided by the Charlotte Department of Transportation under the branding known as Charlotte Transit, which was in existence from 1976 to 1999. [5] (Charlotte Transit is not to be confused with Charlotte Area Transit System despite the similarity in name.) Most routes were local, with virtually no express service to outlying areas with the exception of two express routes. Service became inadequate to serve the rapidly growing population, especially in the southern and eastern portions, which began to be built up during 1990s. A referendum was passed in 1998 by Mecklenburg County citizens to approve a 1/2% sales tax to improve public transportation over the next few years. The move created the Metropolitan Transit Commission in 1999 to oversee improvements in Charlotte and nearby suburbs and bordering counties. It eventually led to consolidation of Charlotte Transit and MTC in 2000, forming the new Charlotte Area Transit System. [6] Since then, more express routes were added to the edges of Mecklenburg County and some local bus service was expanded, especially to the fast-growing South Charlotte. On August 19, 2007 the Charlotte Observer revealed that mass transit on Charlotte's existing bus-only system has increased ridership by 66% since 1998, but its operating budget had increased by 170% after adjusting for inflation. [7]


CATS bus service serves Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, with service in Charlotte, Davidson, Huntersville, Cornelius, Matthews, Pineville, and Mint Hill.

CATS operates local routes within the city of Charlotte, with the majority of those multiple-stop routes serving the Charlotte Transportation Center in Uptown. While crosstown service is scarce, other routes that do not serve Uptown mainly connect directly between LYNX rail stations and outlying neighborhoods. The transit system has since built three more transit centers to serve different parts of the city in the mid-2000s: the Eastland Community Transit Center in East Charlotte located near the now-closed Eastland Mall, the SouthPark Community Transit Center in South Charlotte located inside the parking garage of South Park Mall, and the Rosa Parks Community Transit Center in North Charlotte located near Johnson C. Smith University. [8]

Express buses in the CATS system serve Union County, Concord, Gastonia, and Rock Hill, South Carolina.

CATS also operates the Special Transportation Service (STS) which provides transportation to people with disabilities certified as eligible based on the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines. STS provides service during the same times and in the same locations as the fixed route bus service.

The CATS system transports over 80,000 weekday riders across all of its services. Ridership for Fiscal Year 2010 reached over 24 million riders, a yearly amount not experienced in Charlotte since the late 1940s.

CATS, in conjunction with NCDOT, operates an HOV lane on the expressway portion of Independence Boulevard. The HOV lane has been in operation since 1998.

Active fleet

CATS operates with a fleet of 323 buses on 73 bus routes. [9] [10]

ImageBuilder and
model name
Fleet Series (Year Built)LengthEngine sourceNotes
501-510 (2001)40 ft (12 m)Diesel
  • Express Route Only Coach
CATS1505D4500.jpg MCI
1501-1502 (2016)
1503-1511 (2017)
45 ft (14 m)Diesel
  • Express Route Only Coach
BRT (G27D102N4)
961–968 (2007)
400-410 (2009)
1001-1020 (2009)
1021-1043 (2011)
1044-1071 (2012)
1072-1073 (2014)
1074-1083 (2015)
1087-1094 (2017)
40 ft (12 m)Diesel
BRT HEV (G19D102N4)
2501–2502 (2005)40 ft (12 m)Diesel-Electric Hybrid
  • First hybrid buses added to fleet.
CATS2903Airport.jpg Gillig
BRT HEV (G30D102N4)
2901-2905 (2009)
2111-2116 (2011)
2117-2120 (2013)
1084-1086 (2017)
2121-2128 (2017)
40 ft (12 m)Diesel-Electric Hybrid
  • The 2901-2905 buses were assigned to airport "Sprinter" service.
CATS1094BRTPlus.jpg Gillig
BRT Plus
1088-1096 (2018)
2129-2144 (2018)
40 ft (12 m)Diesel
BRT 29' (G27E102R2)
630-636 (2006)
637-655 (2007)
656-658 (2009)
659-665 (2012)
667-669 (2012)
29 ft (8.8 m)Diesel
  • These buses operate on community shuttles and low-ridership routes.
BRT HEV 29' (G30E102R2)
670-675 (2013)
2670-2680 (2013)
676-680 (2014)
29 ft (8.8 m)Diesel-Electric Hybrid
  • These buses operate on community shuttles and low-ridership routes.


LYNX Blue Line

Charlotte LYNX, Average Daily Ridership, Nov 2007 - Oct 2016 Charlotte LYNX Average Daily Ridership 2007-2016.png
Charlotte LYNX, Average Daily Ridership, Nov 2007 - Oct 2016

On February 22, 2006, the Charlotte Area Transit System announced that its rapid rail lines will be called the "Lynx." The name fits in with the city's cat theme (the NFL team is the Carolina Panthers and the NBA team was known as the Charlotte Bobcats when the name was chosen); also, "Lynx" is a homophone of "links", and was mainly chosen because the light rail is about "connectivity."

The rapid rail cars are black, silver and blue, the colors of the Carolina Panthers. Gold will appear around the "Lynx" logo to tie in the history of the Charlotte region being home to the first major U.S. Gold Rush.

The original light rail system used 16 Siemens S70 train cars [11] acquired for $50 million. [12] In 2012, after 4 years of operation, the trains had to be repaired at the Siemens facility in California for an estimated cost of $400,000 each. The system is the only commuter rail system in the two Carolinas.

On November 24, 2007 the LYNX Blue Line opened. It runs 9.6 miles (15.5 km) between Uptown Charlotte and stops short of Pineville, using a railroad right-of-way paralleling South Boulevard in its entirety. The line has 15 stations. [13] The 9.6 miles (15.4 km) line runs from its northern terminus in Uptown before traversing South End and paralleling South Boulevard to its southern terminus just north of Interstate 485 at the Pineville city limits. [13] [14] It became the first major rapid rail service of any kind in North Carolina, and began operating seventy years after a previous Charlotte streetcar system was disbanded in 1938, in favor of motorized bus transit. [14] [15]

A 9.4-mile (15.1 km) extension of the present 9.6-mile (15.4 km) segment, originally referred to as the "Northeast Corridor", added 11 stations between Uptown and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. [16] Originally, completion of the extension was estimated to cost $1.12 billion, including an additional 1.2-mile (1.9 km) of track and two stations north of UNC Charlotte, ending at I-485 just south of Cabarrus County. However, due to the effects of the late 2000s – early 2010s recession, CATS voted to shorten the line and reduce the cost to $977 million.

The extension is intended to carry an estimated 24,500 weekday boardings by 2035 and serves four park and ride stations. [17] City transportation and planning officials have predicted the new line could lead to the construction of 10,000 new housing units, as well as the development of nearly 4 million square feet of offices and 1.3 million square feet of retail space. [18] On July 18, 2013, the official groundbreaking took place near the 9th Street Station, with the mayor of Charlotte Patsy Kinsey, N.C. Governor Pat McCrory and other officials in attendance. [19] The extension opened on March 16, 2018. [20]

CityLYNX Gold Line

A 1.5-mile (2.4 km) streetcar line, the first segment of the CityLYNX Gold Line, commenced service on July 14, 2015. [21] This section runs from the Charlotte Transportation Center / Arena station to Hawthorne Lane & 5th Street.

Gold Line is a planned 9.9-mile modern streetcar route running from Rosa Parks Community Transit Center, through Uptown Charlotte, down Central Avenue and terminating at Eastland Community Transit Center. A Federal Urban Circulator Grant was awarded in July 2010, allowing construction of phase one, a 1.5-mile segment between the Charlotte Transportation Center in Uptown and Presbyterian Hospital on Elizabeth Avenue. It opened on 14 July 2015; the second phase is scheduled to open in 2019. [22] [23]

Future service

Boarding a southbound train at Stonewall Station LYNX Stonewall Station.jpg
Boarding a southbound train at Stonewall Station

Future expansion includes plans for light rail, streetcars and bus rapid transit along the corridors in the 2030 Transit Corridor System Plan adopted in 2006 by Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC). [24] On May 6, 2013, a 30-member transit funding task force released a draft report in which they estimated it would cost $3.3 billion to build the remaining transit corridors, and $1.7 billion to operate and maintain the lines through 2024. To fund the build-out by sales taxes alone would require a 0.78 cent increase in the sales tax, which would need to be approved by the state General Assembly. The committee recommended any sales tax increase be limited to 0.5 cent and other methods used to raise funds; some suggested methods included:

Although build-out of the entire system has been estimated for completion by 2030, [16] by July 2015, the Charlotte Area Transit System reported it lacked the funds to support any future transit projects apart from the already budgeted 2.5-mile long Phase 2 segment of the CityLYNX Gold Line. [26]

Under construction

CityLYNX Gold Line Extension

Two further segments of the CityLYNX Gold Line streetcar line, totaling 8.4-mile (13.5 km), have been planned. Phase 2 will be using the 6 new Siemens S70 hybrid streetcars for $40 million and will replace the green and yellow Gomaco replica vehicles. [27] The CityLYNX Gold Line Phase 2 project is set to break ground in January 2017 with revenue service beginning in 2020.

When complete, the line will connect the University Park area of west Charlotte with Eastway Park area in east Charlotte by way of Uptown Charlotte, in a primarily east-west direction. Proposals call for its completion by 2023. [16] CATS estimates that the completed route will have an average daily ridership of between 14,200 and 16,700 passengers by 2030. [28] Groundbreaking for the initial 1.5-mile segment took place on December 12, 2012 in front of Presbyterian Hospital, with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Mayor Foxx and other officials in attendance. [29] The initial 1.5 mile (2.41 kilometer) segment (Phase 1) between Time Warner Cable Arena and Presbyterian Hospital opened on July 14, 2015. A further 2.5 mile (4.02 kilometer) segment (Phase 2) from the Charlotte Transportation Center/TWC Arena to French Street, and from Presbyterian Hospital to Hawthorne Lane has received funding. Construction of this segment is scheduled to begin by 2016, and to be open by late 2019. [30] [31] The third and final phase between Hawthorne Lane and Eastland CTC, and from French Street to Rosa Parks CTC, is scheduled for completion by 2023 at a cost of $231 million. [16]


Silver Line

The Silver Line is a proposed 13.5-mile (21.7 km) rapid transit corridor to be operated as bus rapid transit (BRT) (or possibly as a light rail line) between the CPCC Levine Campus in Matthews and the proposed Gateway Station in Uptown Charlotte. Proposals call for it to be complete through Idlewild Road by 2022, Sardis Road North by 2024 and finally to CPCC Levine by 2026. [16] As aligned, the completed line will have 16 stations and be completed at an estimated cost of $582 million. [16] By October 2012, the MTC had decided in favor of a busway on interior lanes of the highway. [32] In May 2013, however, a 30-member funding task force suggested a light rail line for the proposed route, at an estimated cost of $1.7 billion. [25] So far, no definite plans to begin construction have been made.

West Corridor

The West Corridor is a proposed 6.4-mile (10.3 km) streetcar line, connecting Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in west Charlotte with Uptown Charlotte. Proposals call for completion by 2034. [16] With a completion date over two decades away, in 2008 CATS announced enhanced bus service along this corridor to serve as a placeholder until the line can be constructed. [33] Called Sprinter, the service began in September 2009 and features fewer stops and timing similar to that of the future streetcar route. [34]

Red Line

The Red Line is a proposed, but effectively discontinued 25-mile (40 km) commuter rail line. To be constructed along existing Norfolk Southern tracks, the line was intended to provide service to the towns of Huntersville, Cornelius, and Davidson in northern Mecklenburg County. The line was to be serviced by diesel multiple unit trains, and the southern terminus was the proposed Gateway Station in Uptown Charlotte. [16] On October 17, 2012, the N.C. DOT, the Red Line Task Force, and CATS requested Norfolk Southern to conduct a study of the Red Line concept. As the Red Line would have utilized the NS O-Line between Charlotte and Mooresville, the study intended to determine if and how both freight and passenger services could use the same line while allowing normal freight services to continue. At a meeting of the task force on October 24, it was estimated the study could be initiated by late January 2013 and completed by early 2014, after which further feasibility studies and projections could be made. [35] On June 25, 2014, following the completion and release of the feasibility study, CATS officials said the Red Line would be too costly and complicated to build. Several reasons were provided, including:

  • The continued refusal of Norfolk Southern to share its existing trackage with CATS, which would necessitate the construction of a railway line parallel to the NS rails. This would increase the overall project cost by $215 million and cause "multiple disruptions to adjacent communities", as building a parallel rail line would involve construction costs, right-of-way purchases, and the complete rebuilding of all road intersections along the proposed line.
  • The project's ineligibility for federal funding due to low ridership projections.
  • The inability of CATS to fund the Red Line on its own.

Despite the negative assessments of the feasibility study, the Metropolitan Transit Commission, including the Red Line task force, has not taken any official steps to disband the project. [36]

Former service

Charlotte Trolley

91 Charlotte Trolley operated within Uptown Charlotte from August 30, 1996 to June 28, 2010. The heritage trolley used vintage replica trolleys, serving 11 stations from Atherton Mill to 9th Street. Its operation was shared between the City of Charlotte and Charlotte Trolley Inc., a non-profit organization. The successes of the trolley led to the LYNX Blue Line light rail along the same right-of-way.

Ridership data

YearPassenger trips
201724,985,270 [37]
201626,248,940 [38]
201527,165,943 [39]
201429,438,356 [40]
201328,712,105 [41]

Source: CATS 2010 Annual Report, National Transit Database'

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