Where are the cars? Two new light-rail parking decks are almost empty.

Where are the cars? Two new light-rail parking decks are almost empty.
(Steve Harrison | The Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE, NC (Steve Harrison/The Charlotte Observer) - There are plenty of open parking spaces at the Lynx Blue Line Extension's four new park-and-ride lots.

Will commuters eventually fill them?

The Charlotte Area Transit System built three new parking decks and one surface lot on the 9.3-mile extension, which opened Friday.

? Demand has been solid at the northern-most park-and-ride on the Lynx Blue Line Extension, with the deck at JW Clay Boulevard more than half full Tuesday afternoon, with 525 cars in a 800-space deck.

? A little more than a mile away, at the University City Boulevard station, the 1,513-space parking deck was mostly empty Tuesday afternoon. There were 57 cars in the entire deck.

? The Sugar Creek station has the parking deck closest to uptown. On Wednesday morning there were 29 cars inside the deck, which has 632 spaces.

? There is one surface parking lot, at the Old Concord Road station. On Tuesday morning there were 50 cars at the surface lot, which has about 155 spaces.

Ten years ago, when the original Lynx Blue Line opened, the number of commuters using park-and-ride lots steadily increased after the opening. After two months of the Lynx being open, the number of cars doubled, from about 500 on opening day in November 2007 to 1,100 in January 2008.

In the summer of 2008, when gas prices spiked, commuters flooded to the Lynx. The parking deck at the I-485/South Boulevard station filled up, and CATS expanded it with a small surface parking lot nearby.

If that pattern holds, the University City Boulevard station could slowly fill with cars that can't find a space at the northern-most deck. If not, the Charlotte Area Transit System might need to reconsider its decision to charge many riders to park in the two decks. If a rider doesn't have a daily, weekly or monthly pass, they have to pay $10 to exit the decks at JW Clay and University City Boulevard.

Parking at the Sugar Creek and Old Concord Road stations are free. The park-and-ride lots on the original Lynx Blue Line have always been free.

The design of the Lynx Blue Line Extension is arguably less friendly for commuters than the original light-rail line.

The extension's last station is on the UNC Charlotte's campus, and it doesn't have a park-and-ride lot. The original plan was for the extension to reach I-485, but that final segment was removed because it cost too much money.

In addition, the parking decks at JW Clay Boulevard and University City Boulevard aren't free. Parking in the decks cost $10 – unless you have a daily, weekly or monthly pass.

The Charlotte Area Transit System said it won't release ridership reports on the extension until April. CATS projected the Blue Line Extension would carry about 18,000 passenger trips on an average weekday. The original Lynx line carried about 15,500 passenger trips.