Charlotte Area Transit System CATS
September, 2011 - Article by Aaron Cress
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Caption:The Charlotte Area Transit System hub located uptown near Lynx's lightrail. --Photo by: Aaron Cress--

The Charlotte Area Transit System is made up of buses and the light rail. Transit is a valuable asset for the community- it’s what makes a city run. Founded in 1999, C.A.T.S. now operates 320 buses with 73 routes serving most neighborhoods in Mecklenburg County. It also operates a rail system called L.Y.N.X., which is 9.2 miles of electric light rail running from center city to the Pineville area in south Charlotte.

Use of the buses can be a disappointing experience. While it is nice to have transportation available at a reasonable cost, the money isn’t collected in a very convenient manner. The rider is required to have exact change or a punch card—no change is given on the bus. In addition, when attempting to get downtown from UNCC, which is one of the northernmost stops, the bus stops every hundred yards or so, making for a slow trip. When riders were asked why they were riding the bus, they cited lower costs compared to driving a car, the convenience of public transportation when a car has broken down, and the fact that the bus provides heat in the wintertime.

Forty minutes after boarding the bus in the university area, it drops off passengers at the downtown transit hub. The hub is impressive and clean, with many buses cycling though at all times. From here, it’s possible to connect to the light rail or walk a couple of blocks to the city’s center. There is a parking lot by the hub that offers all-day parking for $6.00, three times the fare to ride.

The light rail gives off a better first impression than the bus. It features an automatic ticket dispenser that accepts credit/debit cards and provides change. The fees are comparable to the bus, with the added convenience of round-trip tickets and student discounts. The bus system offers these, but only if you purchase a punch card from the hub. L.Y.N.X. is clean, less crowded, and has a more even demographic, with many business professionals riding. This is likely due to the areas through which the train travels, but also may have something to do with the larger amount of personal space available. L.Y.N.X. is very quick, with only a few stops, making it a faster way to get in an out of the city than driving. Though impressive, it has a very limited coverage area. Before the light rail was built, there was much controversy over the cost and amount of infrastructure the system would require.