Charlotte transit leader rescinds retirement

The Chief Operating Office has decided to stay at the city at a critical juncture for Charlott’es transit goals
His decision to stay comes at a critical juncture for the transit organization.
Published: Dec. 12, 2022 at 11:01 AM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - In a surprising reversal, the Chief Operating Officer of Charlotte Area Transit System has rescinded his retirement and is staying at the city. WBTV first broke the news of Allen Smith’s retirement in October, but CATS officials confirmed Friday that he is no longer leaving the city.

Smith’s decision to stay comes at a critical juncture for the transit organization.

- CATS bus operators employed by RATP Dev will soon be voting on a new contract proposal. If rejected, it’s possible bus operators could go on strike.

- Charlotte leaders are moving forward with a city mobility plan that requires the support of regional and state elected leaders who have been paying attention to CATS’ struggles.

- Charlotte is still searching for a new CEO to head CATS while Assistant City Manager Brent Cagle fills in on an interim basis.

Smith’s retirement announcement was confirmed one week before CATS CEO John Lewis announced he was resigning his position to take a job in the private sector. City leaders said Lewis’s last day was November 30th.

It was originally unclear when Smith was slated to leave the city but now he apparently isn’t.

“Mr. Smith has notified the City of Charlotte Human Resource Department that he is rescinding his decision to retire at the end of this month. All city employees have the right to decide on their retirement time,” a CATS spokesperson wrote in an email on Friday.

WBTV requested comments from both Smith and Cagle but didn’t receive any.

Smith’s reversal isn’t the only overhaul at CATS that appears to have been canceled.

Bus operators will be voting on a new contract with the private transit company that manages Charlotte’s bus system, RATP Dev. A previously proposed contract was soundly rejected by operators earlier this year.

Charlotte’s contract with RATP Dev is set to expire on February 11 but the city manager’s office could decide to extend the contract an additional year without new input from city councilmembers.

WBTV previously reported on the shortcomings of the contractor including missing performance goals for bus maintenance and on-time performance.

City leaders had indicated they would be open to new bids for the bus management contract, but the council has not received any updates on proposals yet.

City Manager Marcus Jones previously announced a complete review of CATS leadership structure and the contractor. Charlotte’s internal auditor said it had contacted a nationally recognized accounting firm to conduct an audit of CATS finance practices.

Neither review has been presented yet and it’s unclear if the audit ever moved forward at all.

Meanwhile, councilmembers are being asked to keep pushing ahead on some of CATS biggest goals such as confirming plans for a new transit center in Uptown and approving the “locally preferred alternative” for the Silver Line.

In an interview with WBTV in October, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles stressed the importance of the city’s mobility goals and the urgency to move forward. The timeline to acquire federal funding and rapid pace of new Charlotte residents means time is of the essence, according to Lyles.

“We want to do something about it in advance and that’s why I think it’s so urgent and important,” Lyles said.