To win back commuters, CATS buys new buses

To win back commuters, CATS buys new buses

CHARLOTTE, NC (Steve Harrison/The Charlotte Observer) - The Charlotte Area Transit System is trying to make traveling better for commuters by buying 11 new buses that will operate on express routes.

The buses, which cost $625,000 each, have reclining seats, overhead reading lights and overhead storage compartments. Some are already being used. Others will be put into use over the summer.

With gas prices low, transit ridership in Charlotte overall has declined, especially on express routes where many passengers could choose to drive.

Regional express routes, which go to and from neighboring counties, were down 11 percent through the first nine months of the fiscal year. Other express routes inside Mecklenburg also had fewer riders.

One bright spot for CATS is the Northlake Express, whose ridership is up more than 40 percent. With Interstate 77 under construction due to the express toll lanes project, a number of commuters have found the bus easier than driving alone.

CATS is finishing a new park-and-ride lot in Cornelius, the sixth such lot in north Mecklenburg.

When the I-77 express lanes are finished in 2017, CATS hopes the lanes will boost ridership even further.

Under the state's agreement with the company managing the lanes, Cintra, buses can use the lanes for free while people with two or fewer people in a car have to pay. CATS hopes to expand its express bus network for north Mecklenburg, giving passengers a trip from Mooresville to uptown with a guaranteed travel speed of 45 mph.

In addition to the new buses, CATS is also planning on remaking the look of its entire fleet.

To coordinate with the gray and silver coloring on the Lynx Blue Line, CATS plans to remodel its entire bus fleet with the same gray and silver color scheme over the next several years.