As Charlotte’s LYNX approaches a decade of service (started in Nov 2007), let’s look more closely at this heralded ‘success’. By reviewing the NTD federal filings, (Charlotte LYNX ridership data is on tab UPT (Unlinked Passenger Trips), row 663, column CB).
- 13,362 average daily ridership (workdays and weekend) during Oct 2016 (serving less than 6680 people daily, or less than 1% of Charlotte’s population of 827,000).
- 13,332 average daily ridership over last 9 years with a flat trend line (despite 20% population growth between 2007 and 2015).
As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words” …
During this same period Charlotte’s population grew 20% (691K in 2007 to 827K in 2015 per US Census), with increasing traffic congestion (Study: Charlotte roads, traffic among worst in North Carolina).
It would appear that the only thing that hasn’t grown over the past decade is Charlotte’s LYNX daily ridership. In fact, relative to Charlotte’s ever growing population, LYNX relative riderships (as a percentage of population served) has declined over the past decade.
How did Charlotte get there?
Charlotte’s light-rail line was originally projected to cost an estimated $225 million in 2000. The final cost of the completed project in 2007 was $467 million. Even after adjusting for inflation (2000-2007), that’s a 75% cost overrun. FEIS / DEIS
Citizens attempted to repeal the sales transit tax, but were ultimately defeated after citizen’s campaign was outspent 50:1 by corporate vested interests (like Duke Energy, Wachovia now Wells Fargo, Bank of America, McDonald Transit Associates, Parsons Brinckerhoff, and Siemens). An additional twenty major businesses contributed, all of whom profit from CATS operations according to former city council member Don Reid.
The Charlotte Lynx daily ridership has stagnated 16,000 workday boardings over the last 7 years while the area’s population grew 17%, having no net effect on reducing traffic congestion. Even accounting for ‘choice riders’ those who would give up their cars in favor of Charlotte LYNX, the changes in gasoline prices has had no effect on daily ridership.
Despite the high costs and low ridership, CATS wants more rail — but doesn’t have any money to pay for it. So it has rolled out a campaign of declaring the light rail a great success, especially in the field of economic development. Of course, in most cases it was the subsidies, not the rail, that stimulated the development, and most likely the development would have taken place somewhere in the region anyway, though perhaps not in that corridor.
“Charlotte … perform(s) particularly bad. These systems do not have enough riders to produce the economies of scale that make transit provision by rail significantly less expensive than bus.”
SOURCE: UC Berkeley Urban Densities and Transit: A Multi-dimensional Perspective
“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). Although build-out of the entire system has been estimated for completion by 2034, by 2013, the Charlotte Area Transit System stated it would likely be unable to fund future transit projects apart from the Blue Line Extension, scheduled to begin construction in early 2014.
Charlotte ranked Worst Traffic In North Carolina according to recent 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard. Charlotte’s transit also ranked among nation’s worst. New survey puts it at 26th out of 32 big cities for transit quality according to Charlotte Observer (May 14, 2016)
Can some of the Charlotte Area’s Transit System’s ridership woes be blamed on the growing popularity of ride-hailing services like Uber? That’s a question posed in a report from The Charlotte Observer, which notes that in South End — where the nearby light-rail line has been seen as a selling point to attract new residents — many people are choosing the app-based services over public transit.
For much of the past year, ridership on Charlotte Area Transit System buses and the Lynx Blue Line has declined. For the first nine months of the fiscal year, ridership on all CATS services, including buses and the light rail, was down 4.3 percent compared with the same period a year earlier.
Ride-hailing likely isn’t as appealing for areas farther from uptown because of the higher rates. It costs $20 to $25 to take an Uber from uptown to the southern edge of the light-rail line. [emphasis ours: of course, if Uber was 80% subsidized like LYNX, the Uber fare would drop to $4 to $5 fare]
Over the past seven years, ridership at the four Lynx stations in the South End has increased from 1,595 average weekday boardings in March 2009 to 2,057 boardings in March 2016. That’s a 30% increase in seven years. But during the same period, the number of residents has increased at a much faster rate, from 3,400 to 8,000 people (+135%).
Charlotte facing additional tax revenue shortfalls
The Charlotte plan to address the current $22 million budget shortfall includes: Tax-rate increase & service cuts including:
- closing 311 information service on weekends & holidays
- resurface about 16.5 fewer miles of streets a year
- budget cuts for Police and Fire
- eliminate more than 100 city jobs
In addition, Carlee and his staff, along with the mayor and City Council, have been grappling with unanticipated shortfalls in tax revenue as well as a proposed change in sales-tax sharing that, according to state and city projections, could cost Charlotte an estimated $3 million to $30 million annually.
“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; In July 2015, CATS 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.”
CityLYNX Gold Line facing City budget cuts!
The $75 million the Charlotte City Council approved in 2014 to fund
half the cost of constructing Phase 2 of the City LYNX Gold Line is being threatened.
Due to City budget shortfalls, some Members of City Council are suggesting the $75 million
they already approved for the Gold Line be cut from the budget.
However meritorious the DOLRT may be, we need to think seriously about where the money is going to come from to build and operate it, and we need to have a backup transit plan in the event the money for DOLRT doesn’t materialize.