CATS gold line streetcar beset with financial woes, federal data reveals

In addition to the many logistical problems faced by Charlotte’s Gold Line streetcar rail over the past three years, figures from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) show that since its second phase opening in 2021, the Gold Line also faces financial burdens as well.

The Gold Line is a multi-phase construction of a 10-mile, 37-stop public transportation system in the Queen City. According to the Charlotte Area Transportation System (CATS), the line is part of its 2023 Transit Corridor System Plan, which will eventually connect all of the city’s rapid transit lines.

Recent reporting from the FTA indicates that the cost incurred to move a single passenger one mile is $18.71. That figure is much higher than other means of mass transit in Charlotte, such as the $2.10 cost to transport a passenger via the Lynx Blue Line light rail, and $3.14 for CATS buses.

The high cost to move passengers on the street car, as opposed to the light rail or buses, has led to the conclusion that both operational costs and low ridership are to blame.

Service run times were also cut back on the street car due to staffing shortages, increasing from 20 minutes to 30 minutes.

“CATS is experiencing ongoing challenges with maintaining the current 20-minute schedule, and as a result, riders have faced uncertainty related to frequency of the CityLYNX Gold Line. These disruptions are due to several factors, including staffing constraints and summer events,” CATS said in previous reporting by WFAE.

CATS projections for ridership at the outset of the Gold Line’s phase 2 plan were also overestimated. It was projected that 4,100 passengers would utilize the street car on a workday. Data from October of last year revealed that only around 1,800 passengers used the street car.

Although the fiscal year 2023 report has not yet been released, CATS officials have stated in previous news coverage that $4.7 million was spent on operating the streetcar for fiscal year 2023.

Currently, the Gold Line is in planning phase 3. That branch will include extension of the system by six miles, up to 17 additional stations, key connections to Eastland Community Transit Center and Rosa Parks Community Transit Center, and Public Art at streetcar stops in the east and west corridors of the Charlotte Metro area.

Three public meetings will be held regarding updates to the Phase 3 Gold Line extension plan, according to a recent CATS press release.

Red Line Commuter Rail also faces challenges

The Red Line commuter rail, a project which has been in the works for several decades, and would allow for convenient public transit extending from Charlotte to north Mecklenburg County in the Mooresville area has also faced renewed scrutiny. The Red Line is a 25-mile commuter rail project using the existing Norfolk Southern rail line. Updated proposals for the Red Line include additional trips and stations that were not a part of the original plan for the rail, which had a 16-28 trip projection. Traffic patterns throughout the Charlotte area due to highway construction and toll roads have been cited as a principal cause for the additional trips. A new proposal for the Red Line includes 42 trips a day with 30-minute frequencies around rush hour and hourly trains during non-rush hours.

The fiscal impacts of these changes to the Red Line are also a serious consideration. Costs for more frequent stops and possibly additional stations along the train route are expected to top the initial CATS estimate of $647 million. 

The post CATS gold line streetcar beset with financial woes, federal data reveals first appeared on Carolina Journal.


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