Major CATS meeting spotlights safety, oversight and failures of past CEO

Mecklenburg transit leaders question their role as plans for an outside review are stifled.
Mecklenburg transit leaders question their role as plans for an outside review are stifled.
Published: Apr. 26, 2023 at 11:04 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Members of the Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) questioned whether their committee even needed to exist during a meeting focusing on CATS recent catastrophes.

Questions about safety, oversight and the failures of CATS former CEO highlighted the evening and relegated other important topics like the Gold Line and the budget to mere side topics.

Here are the main takeaways:

1. Former CATS CEO John Lewis gave interviews with other media outlets claiming CATS problems were caused by failures at the city procurement level. But WBTV’s previous reporting and numerous audits conducted by the city and third parties shows CATS problems with contracts were problems created by CATS. City Manager Marcus Jones said since Lewis and others have left most of the challenges Lewis complained about have been fixed.

“Overpayments, vendors not being paid and that was problematic,” Jones said.

2. At the last meeting the MTC requested a third party review of CATS but Charlotte City Council hasn’t moved forward on that request. It led to questions Wednesday about what the point of the MTC even is.

“I’ve been on here nine years and there’s never been a conflict of anything,” Pineville Mayor Jack Edwards said. “Everything has just rolled right along and suddenly we have a real crap show that’s hit.”

“The way it’s coming across is you’re (City of Charlotte) going to do what you want to do no matter what we say,” Edwards said.

The MTC put Matthews Mayor John Higdon on a Charlotte council committee chaired by Councilman Ed Driggs to look into CATS problems but isn’t moving forward on an outside review. The Federal Transit Authority is moving forward in its own review and is in the process of hiring a contractor to conduct the audit.

3. The North Carolina Department of Transportation told MTC members they are heightening their oversight of CATS since the derailment and wouldn’t have a problem shutting down service if they determined the trains aren’t safe. CATS is now required to submit monthly reports on its operations.

“What has happened over the last several months is the level of intensity of our oversight,” NCDOT ‘s Jason Orthern said.

“That includes additional reporting, it includes additional unannounced visits and other types of oversight activities that will provide that level of (safety) assurance.”

4. Other notes...

  • CATS is evaluating whether to reduce Gold Line service by one hour in the morning and two hours in the evening. According to CATS this would help lessen the workload on the understaffed rail operations control center.
  • CATS “ghost” buses are missing fewer trips on weekdays but still missing lot of trips on weekends.
  • A recent inspection of the CATS garage used by employees at the North Davidson facility revealed cracks and safety concerns. The upper levels are now off limits in an abundance of caution.
  • CATS has published a request for proposals for bus management operations, currently managed by RATP Dev. CATS Interim-CEO Brent Cagle said there are only 5-10 companies that can perform the service so a “good response” would mean getting proposals from roughly five companies.
  • The MTC approved CATS budget proposals for the coming fiscal year.
Members of the MTC had questions about whether they have oversight of CATS if they can't even get a third-party review of the agency.

Also Read: City had evidence of CATS safety issues, shortcomings in months-old audits