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Feds will let CATS supply DNC buses

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Federal regulators on Wednesday granted the Charlotte Area Transit System a waiver so the agency could provide “limited charter service” during the Democratic National Convention next week.

The Federal Transit Administration’s decision comes two weeks after the American Bus Association asked federal regulators to deny a waiver that CATS needs to use its own buses to transport people with disabilities and other accessibility issues.

CATS needed a waiver because federal law prevents public-transit agencies from competing with private bus operators for charter business. City officials say waivers are only granted if private charter services can’t handle the business.

Brian Farber, a spokesman for the FTA, said in an email that between 80 percent and 90 percent of the bus services at the convention still will be provided by private charter bus operators.

“However, this limited waiver, which is similar to those granted in 2008 to the Republican and Democratic conventions, will further ensure that all convention participants, especially participants with disabilities, have access to reliable and safe transportation options during the event,” Farber wrote.

FTA officials said they are satisfied that CATS has notified all private-sector charter services of its intent to provide support during the convention and exhausted all registered private providers in the area. “From our perspective, we’re here to assist in any capacity the private sector can’t fulfill to make it a successful convention,” said Olaf Kinard, director of marketing and communications for CATS. “Evidently there was still a need and so the FTA gave us a waiver.”

CATS’ next step, Kinard said, is to line up the drivers and finalize any other details before the start of the DNC.

The Democratic National Convention Committee estimates that private-sector charter bus services will provide approximately 82 percent of the bus services next week from Monday through Wednesday, , and 89 percent of bus services next Thursday.

CATS is seeking to provide 15 buses and drivers, and up to 45 buses leased through a private charter. CATS would charge $92 per hour for any charter service it provides, a fee that includes operating and administrative costs, Kinard has said.

Bus association spokesman Dan Ronan said the association respects the FTA ruling.

“We made our point known, we explained our position very professionally and very succinctly,” Ronan said.

Ronan also said most private motorcoach companies would charge a minimum of about $120 per hour, and that $92 per hour rate CATS offered is “well below the market rate for motorcoach operators for that part of the country.”

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