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The Charlotte Area Transit System, commonly referred to as CATS, is the public transit system in Charlotte, North Carolina, United States. It operates bus and rail service around the Charlotte metropolitan area. This includes a bus rapid transit line called the Sprinter, a light rail line called the LYNX Blue Line, and a streetcar line called CityLYNX Gold Line.

Charlotte Area Transit System
Charlotte CATS logo.png
ParentCharlotte-Mecklenburg (Charmeck)
Headquarters300 East Trade Street, Charlotte, North Carolina
LocaleCity of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County
Service areaMetrolina
Service typeBus and Light Rail (as LYNX)
Routes50 local, 19 express
Stations24 (LYNX)
45 park and rides
Fleet501 (total)
Daily ridership83,100[1]
Fuel typeDiesel, Hybrid
OperatorRATP Dev (bus)
Charlotte Area Transit System (rail)
Chief executiveJohn M. Lewis, Jr.

John M. Lewis, Jr. was selected as the new CEO of CATS in July 2015 and started the job in mid-August 2015.[2] Lewis replaced Carolyn Flowers, who had served in the role since 2010 and resigned to take a position at the Federal Transit Administration.[3][4]



Charlotte Area Transit, Average Daily Ridership, All Modes, 2002-2016

Bus transportation was provided by the Charlotte Department of Transportation under the branding known as Charlotte Transit, which was in existence from 1976 to 1999.[5] (Charlotte Transit is not to be confused with Charlotte Area Transit System despite the similarity in name.) Most routes were local, with virtually no express service to outlying areas with the exception of two express routes. Service became inadequate to serve the rapidly growing population, especially in the southern and eastern portions, which began to be built up during 1990s. A referendum was passed in 1998 by Mecklenburg County citizens to approve a 1/2% sales tax to improve public transportation over the next few years. The move created the Metropolitan Transit Commission in 1999 to oversee improvements in Charlotte and nearby suburbs and bordering counties. It eventually led to consolidation of Charlotte Transit and MTC in 2000, forming the new Charlotte Area Transit System.[6] Since then, more express routes were added to the edges of Mecklenburg County and some local bus service was expanded, especially to the fast-growing South Charlotte. On August 19, 2007 the Charlotte Observer revealed that mass transit on Charlotte's existing bus-only system has increased ridership by 66% since 1998, but its operating budget had increased by 170% after adjusting for inflation.[7]


CATS bus service serves Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, with service in Charlotte, Davidson, Huntersville, Cornelius, Matthews, Pineville, and Mint Hill.

CATS operates local routes within the city of Charlotte, with the majority of those multiple-stop routes serving the Charlotte Transportation Center in Uptown. While crosstown service is scarce, other routes that do not serve Uptown mainly connect directly between LYNX rail stations and outlying neighborhoods. The transit system has since built three more transit centers to serve different parts of the city in the mid-2000s: the Eastland Community Transit Center in East Charlotte located near the now-closed Eastland Mall, the SouthPark Community Transit Center in South Charlotte located inside the parking garage of South Park Mall, and the Rosa Parks Community Transit Center in North Charlotte located near Johnson C. Smith University.[8]

Express buses in the CATS system serve Union County, Concord, Gastonia, and Rock Hill, South Carolina.

CATS also operates the Special Transportation Service (STS) which provides transportation to people with disabilities certified as eligible based on the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines. STS provides service during the same times and in the same locations as the fixed route bus service.

The CATS system transports over 80,000 weekday riders across all of its services. Ridership for Fiscal Year 2010 reached over 24 million riders, a yearly amount not experienced in Charlotte since the late 1940s.

CATS, in conjunction with NCDOT, operates an HOV lane on the expressway portion of Independence Boulevard. The HOV lane has been in operation since 1998.

Active fleetEdit

CATS operates with a fleet of 323 buses on 73 bus routes.[9][10]

Image Builder and
model name
Fleet Series (Year Built) Length Engine source Notes
501-510 (2001) 40 ft (12 m) Diesel
  • Express Route Only Coach
1501-1502 (2016)
1503-1511 (2017)
40 ft (12 m) Diesel-Electric Hybrid
  • Express Route Only Coach
BRT (G27D102N4)
961–968 (2007)
400-410 (2009)
1001-1020 (2009)
1021-1043 (2011)
1044-1071 (2012)
1072-1073 (2014)
1074-1083 (2015)
1087-1094 (2017)
40 ft (12 m) Diesel
BRT HEV (G19D102N4)
2501–2502 (2005) 40 ft (12 m) Diesel-Electric Hybrid
  • First hybrid buses added to fleet.
BRT HEV (G30D102N4)
2901-2905 (2009)
2111-2116 (2011)
2117-2120 (2013)
1084-1086 (2017)
2121-2128 (2017)
40 ft (12 m) Diesel-Electric Hybrid
  • The 2901-2905 buses were assigned to airport "Sprinter" service.
BRT Plus
1088-1096 (2018)
2129-2144 (2018)
40 ft (12 m) Diesel
BRT 29' (G27E102R2)
630-636 (2006)
637-655 (2007)
656-658 (2009)
659-665 (2012)
667-669 (2012)
29 ft (8.8 m) Diesel
  • These buses operate on community shuttles and low-ridership routes.
BRT HEV 29' (G30E102R2)
670-675 (2013)
2670-2680 (2013)
676-680 (2014)
29 ft (8.8 m) Diesel-Electric Hybrid
  • These buses operate on community shuttles and low-ridership routes.


LYNX Blue LineEdit

Charlotte LYNX, Average Daily Ridership, Nov 2007 - Oct 2016

On February 22, 2006, the Charlotte Area Transit System announced that its rapid rail lines will be called the "Lynx." The name fits in with the city's cat theme (the NFL team is the Carolina Panthers and the NBA team was known as the Charlotte Bobcats when the name was chosen); also, "Lynx" is a homophone of "links", and was mainly chosen because the light rail is about "connectivity."

The rapid rail cars are black, silver and blue, the colors of the Carolina Panthers. Gold will appear around the "Lynx" logo to tie in the history of the Charlotte region being home to the first major U.S. Gold Rush.

The original light rail system used 16 Siemens S70 train cars [11] acquired for $50 million.[12] In 2012, after 4 years of operation, the trains had to be repaired at the Siemens facility in California for an estimated cost of $400,000 each.

The systems development was led by Michael Kozak of the state's Department of Transportation and is the only commuter rail system in the two Carolinas.

On November 24, 2007 the LYNX Blue Line opened. It runs 9.6 miles (15.5 km) between Uptown Charlotte and stops short of Pineville, using a railroad right-of-way paralleling South Boulevard in its entirety. The line has 15 stations.[13] The 9.6 miles (15.4 km) line runs from its northern terminus in Uptown before traversing South End and paralleling South Boulevard to its southern terminus just north of Interstate 485 at the Pineville city limits.[13][14] It became the first major rapid rail service of any kind in North Carolina, and began operating seventy years after a previous Charlotte streetcar system was disbanded in 1938, in favor of motorized bus transit.[14][15]

A 9.4-mile (15.1 km) extension of the present 9.6-mile (15.4 km) segment, originally referred to as the "Northeast Corridor", added 11 stations between Uptown and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.[16] Originally, completion of the extension was estimated to cost $1.12 billion, including an additional 1.2-mile (1.9 km) of track and 2 stations north of UNC Charlotte, ending at I-485 just south of Cabarrus County. However, due to the effects of the late 2000s – early 2010s recession, CATS voted to shorten the line and reduce the cost to $977 million.

The extension is intended to carry an estimated 24,500 weekday boardings by 2035 and serves 4 park and ride stations.[17] City transportation and planning officials have predicted the new line could lead to the construction of 10,000 new housing units, as well as the development of nearly four million square feet of offices and 1.3 million square feet of retail space.[18] On July 18, 2013, the official groundbreaking took place near the 9th Street Station, with the mayor of Charlotte Patsy Kinsey, N.C. Governor Pat McCrory and other officials in attendance.[19] The extension opened on March 16, 2018.[20]

CityLYNX Gold LineEdit

A 1.5-mile (2.4 km) streetcar line, the first segment of the CityLYNX Gold Line, commenced service on July 14, 2015.[21] This section runs from the Charlotte Transportation Center / Arena station to Hawthorne Lane & 5th Street.

Gold Line is a planned 9.9-mile modern streetcar route running from Rosa Parks Community Transit Center, through Uptown Charlotte, down Central Avenue and terminating at Eastland Community Transit Center. A Federal Urban Circulator Grant was awarded in July 2010, allowing construction of phase one, a 1.5-mile segment between the Charlotte Transportation Center in Uptown and Presbyterian Hospital on Elizabeth Avenue. It opened on 14 July 2015; the second phase is scheduled to open in 2019.[22][23]

Future serviceEdit

Boarding a southbound train at Stonewall Station

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).[24] 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; some suggested methods included:

  • Using the federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TFIA) to quickly begin construction. TFIA loans could pay for 33% of the streetcar project and 30% of the rapid transit line along Independence Boulevard. It could allow CATS to begin collecting new property taxes from projects built along the rail line, which could be used to pay off the loans.
  • Expanding advertising on train cars and buses, possibly selling naming rights and sponsorships.
  • Entering into partnership with a private company to help finance part of the project.[25]

Although build-out of the entire system has been estimated for completion by 2030,[16] by July 2015, the Charlotte Area Transit System 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.[26]

Under constructionEdit

CityLYNX Gold Line ExtensionEdit

Two further segments of the CityLYNX Gold Line streetcar line, totaling 8.4-mile (13.5 km), have been planned. Phase 2 will be using the 6 new Siemens S70 hybrid streetcars for $40 million and will replace the green and yellow Gomaco replica vehicles.[27] The CityLYNX Gold Line Phase 2 project is set to break ground in January 2017 with revenue service beginning in 2020.

When complete, the line will connect the University Park area of west Charlotte with Eastway Park area in east Charlotte by way of Uptown Charlotte, in a primarily east-west direction. Proposals call for its completion by 2023.[16] CATS estimates that the completed route will have an average daily ridership of between 14,200 and 16,700 passengers by 2030.[28] Groundbreaking for the initial 1.5-mile segment took place on December 12, 2012 in front of Presbyterian Hospital, with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Mayor Foxx and other officials in attendance.[29] The initial 1.5 mile (2.41 kilometer) segment (Phase 1) between Time Warner Cable Arena and Presbyterian Hospital opened on July 14, 2015. A further 2.5 mile (4.02 kilometer) segment (Phase 2) from the Charlotte Transportation Center/TWC Arena to French Street, and from Presbyterian Hospital to Hawthorne Lane has received funding. Construction of this segment is scheduled to begin by 2016, and to be open by late 2019.[30][31] The third and final phase between Hawthorne Lane and Eastland CTC, and from French Street to Rosa Parks CTC, is scheduled for completion by 2023 at a cost of $231 million.[16]


Silver LineEdit

The Silver Line is a proposed 13.5-mile (21.7 km) rapid transit corridor to be operated as bus rapid transit (BRT) (or possibly as a light rail line) between the CPCC Levine Campus in Matthews and the proposed Gateway Station in Uptown Charlotte. Proposals call for it to be complete through Idlewild Road by 2022, Sardis Road North by 2024 and finally to CPCC Levine by 2026.[16] As aligned, the completed line will have 16 stations and be completed at an estimated cost of $582 million.[16] By October 2012, the MTC had decided in favor of a busway on interior lanes of the highway.[32] In May 2013, however, a 30-member funding task force suggested a light rail line for the proposed route, at an estimated cost of $1.7 billion.[25] So far, no definite plans to begin construction have been made.

West CorridorEdit

The West Corridor is a proposed 6.4-mile (10.3 km) streetcar line, connecting Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in west Charlotte with Uptown Charlotte. Proposals call for completion by 2034.[16] With a completion date over two decades away, in 2008 CATS announced enhanced bus service along this corridor to serve as a placeholder until the line can be constructed.[33] Called Sprinter, the service began in September 2009 and features fewer stops and timing similar to that of the future streetcar route.[34]

Red LineEdit

The Red Line is a proposed, but effectively discontinued 25-mile (40 km) commuter rail line. To be constructed along existing Norfolk Southern tracks, the line was intended to provide service to the towns of Huntersville, Cornelius, and Davidson in northern Mecklenburg County. The line was to be serviced by diesel multiple unit trains, and the southern terminus was the proposed Gateway Station in Uptown Charlotte.[16] On October 17, 2012, the N.C. DOT, the Red Line Task Force, and CATS requested Norfolk Southern to conduct a study of the Red Line concept. As the Red Line would have utilized the NS O-Line between Charlotte and Mooresville, the study intended to determine if and how both freight and passenger services could use the same line while allowing normal freight services to continue. At a meeting of the task force on October 24, it was estimated the study could be initiated by late January 2013 and completed by early 2014, after which further feasibility studies and projections could be made.[35] On June 25, 2014, following the completion and release of the feasibility study, CATS officials said the Red Line would be too costly and complicated to build. Several reasons were provided, including:

  • The continued refusal of Norfolk Southern to share its existing trackage with CATS, which would necessitate the construction of a railway line parallel to the NS rails. This would increase the overall project cost by $215 million and cause "multiple disruptions to adjacent communities", as building a parallel rail line would involve construction costs, right-of-way purchases, and the complete rebuilding of all road intersections along the proposed line.
  • The project's ineligibility for federal funding due to low ridership projections.
  • The inability of CATS to fund the Red Line on its own.

Despite the negative assessments of the feasibility study, the Metropolitan Transit Commission, including the Red Line task force, has not taken any official steps to disband the project.[36]

Former serviceEdit

Charlotte TrolleyEdit

91 Charlotte Trolley operated within Uptown Charlotte from August 30, 1996 to June 28, 2010. The heritage trolley used vintage replica trolleys, serving 11 stations from Atherton Mill to 9th Street. Its operation was shared between the City of Charlotte and Charlotte Trolley Inc., a non-profit organization. The successes of the trolley led to the LYNX Blue Line light rail along the same right-of-way.

Ridership dataEdit

Year Passenger trips
2017 24,985,270[37]
2016 26,248,940[38]
2015 27,165,943[39]
2014 29,438,356[40]
2013 28,712,105[41]
2010 24,355,191
2009 26,034,078
2008 23,199,350
2007 19,757,737
2006 19,156,590
2005 17,773,753
2004 20,875,635
2003 18,888,550
2002 16,587,199
  • 1997–2005: Service Consumption Versus Costs: (costs adjusted for inflation at 3.5% per year)
    Ridership(unlinked trips): +52%
    Operational cost per passenger trip: +66%
    Operational cost per vehicle mile: +6%
    Operational cost per vehicle hour: +16%

Source: CATS 2010 Annual Report, National Transit Database'


  1. ^ APTA. "1st Quarter 2011 Ridership Report" (PDF).
  2. ^ "John Lewis Jr. will be the new CATS executive director". Retrieved 2015-10-09.
  3. ^ "Muth named interim director of CATS". Charlotte Area Transit System. December 18, 2014. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
  4. ^ Harrison, Steve (December 8, 2014). "Carolyn Flowers leaving CATS for federal appointment". The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ The Charlotte Observer – Steve Harrison (2007-08-19). "How Well is the Bus System Working?".
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Charlotte Area Transit System – Fast Facts". Charlotte Area Transit System. Retrieved January 25, 2019.
  10. ^ Lewis, John (November 13, 2018). "State of Alternative Bus Fleet Fuels" (PDF). City of Charlotte. Retrieved January 25, 2019.
  11. ^ "Siemens S70 Data Sheet" (PDF).
  12. ^ "Repairs for LYNX trains to cost $6.5M". Charlotte, NC: WSOC-TV. January 6, 2012. Retrieved January 13, 2017.
  13. ^ a b Harrison, Steve (November 24, 2007). "A momentous arrival: After opening-day hoopla, what's ahead for Lynx?". The Charlotte Observer.
  14. ^ a b "LYNX Blue Line South Corridor Light Rail Project Description". Charlotte Area Transit System. Archived from the original on June 5, 2008. Retrieved February 23, 2007.
  15. ^ Rhee, Foon (January 19, 1988). "Is a light rail system in Charlotte's future?". The Charlotte Observer. pp. 1B.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h "Destination 2030". Charlotte Area Transit System. Retrieved 25 Jun 2007.
  17. ^ "Blue Line Extension Fact Sheet" (PDF).
  18. ^ Frazier, Eric (August 30, 2014). "Dirt moving for light rail to UNCC – raising high hopes for development". The Charlotte Observer.
  19. ^ Haggerty, Neil (July 18, 2013). "LYNX Blue Line light rail extension breaks ground". The Charlotte Observer.
  20. ^ "Charlotte announces opening date for light rail expansion". The News & Observer. 9 January 2018. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  21. ^ Harrison, Portillo, Steve, Ely (July 14, 2015). "Anthony Foxx gives passionate speech to open streetcar; service starts at 1 p.m.". The Charlotte Observer.
  22. ^ McMillan, Therese (14 July 2015). "Striking Gold in Charlotte". U.S. Department of Transportation. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
  23. ^ Harrison, Steve; Portillo, Ely (14 July 2015). "Charlotte streetcar begins service on 1.5-mile run". The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
  24. ^ "2030 Transit Corridor System Plan". Charlotte Area Transit System. Archived from the original on 2008-06-08. Retrieved 18 Jun 2008.
  25. ^ a b Harrison, Steve (6 May 2013). "Group suggests new transit tax, private help". The Charlotte Observer.
  26. ^ Harrison, Steve (14 July 2015). "New CATS chief in funding jam". The Charlotte Observer.
  27. ^ "Construction and vehicle contracts awarded for CityLYNX Gold Line Phase 2 project". November 29, 2016.
  28. ^ Rubin, Richard (June 29, 2006). "City eyes east-west streetcar". The Charlotte Observer. pp. 4B.
  29. ^ Bethea, April (12 Dec 2012). "Despite uncertain future, Charlotte breaks ground on streetcar". The Charlotte Observer.
  30. ^ CityLynx Gold Line Fact Sheet: July 2013
  31. ^ CityLynx Gold Line Update: May 2014
  32. ^ Harrison, Steve (15 Oct 2012). "Light-rail extension moves to fast track; CATS to announce federal funding for uptown-to-UNCC line". The Charlotte Observer.
  33. ^ Sullivan, Karen (25 May 2008). "Bus to airport may improve". The Charlotte Observer. p. 1B.
  34. ^ Harrison, Steve (14 Sep 2009). "Will Uptown workers fly out via Sprinter?". The Charlotte Observer. p. 1B.
  35. ^ Light Rail Task Force Agenda - Summary, October 24, 2012
  36. ^ Harrison, Steve (June 26, 2014). "Charlotte commuter train price jumps by $215M". The Charlotte Observer.
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^

External linksEdit