Packed park-and-ride lots in the morning.
New trains already on order.
A year after Lynx Blue Line light rail debuted in southern Mecklenburg, weekday daily ridership on the 9.6-mile route to and from uptown Charlotte is “way beyond” expectations, according to a CATS spokeswoman.
What? You're not among the 16,000 daily riders? More enticements are coming to get you on board.
Last week, CATS officially opened new parking spaces for the Lynx stop at the I-485/South Boulevard stop near Pineville. It'll help morning commuters – many of whom face the “full” message board sign at the 1,100-plus-space deck, then drive to other light-rail stations for spaces.
And though Matthews is several years away from a final decision on what type of rapid transit system is coming, future plans include space in the town for two light-rail transit stops.
Meanwhile, commuters like Mary Wholey are hooked.
“I call it my decompression time,” said Wholey. Four days a week she drives from her southern Mecklenburg neighborhood off Rea Road to the South Boulevard stop, then catches the train to her job at Bank of America. She doesn't miss her traffic-clogged driving commute, and can polish off a book a week thanks in part to her train time. “Sometimes when I have a really good book, I get close to missing my stop.”
The Charlotte Area Transit System launched its $462.7 million South Corridor line last November.
Here's a look at who's riding and who might be in the future:
More riders, more trains.
CATS' 16,000 average weekday rail riders is higher than the 9,100 anticipated after the first year of service, according to CATS spokeswoman Jean Leier. “We are way beyond those expectations,” Leier said via email last week. October ridership averaged 16,470.
Four more rail vehicles are on order, Leier said, and should be available in two years.
Help for early risers.
Relief is on the way for morning commuters facing an overflowing parking deck at South Boulevard. CATS added 54 more parking spaces to the 1,120 existing ones. Signs direct commuters to new spaces south of the Texas Roadhouse Restaurant at 9530 South Blvd.
Plans are also underway to pave and stripe an additional parking lot north of the restaurant for another 85 spaces by early 2009, according to CATS.
Parking can be so iffy on weekday mornings that Tonia Kearney of Weddington gets to the South Boulevard lot no later than 6:45 a.m. to commute to her job at Wachovia.
“You're lucky if you get a spot by 8, 8:30,” said Kearney, who says she rides for convenience and to save money. It's $45 a month to ride light rail, she said, compared to more than $100 for monthly parking.
“You're also lucky if you get a seat ... a lot of people are starting to take light rail now because of gas prices.”
Trains for Matthews? Rapid transit won't come to Matthews before 2022, the scheduled completion of the first phase of the Independence Boulevard corridor, according to plans.
The type of transit – bus or light rail – still hasn't been decided. Although bus transit is cheaper, rail supporters like Matthews Mayor Lee Myers want light rail to boost development along the Independence corridor.
How soon transit comes depends on available federal funding, said Myers, who has leadership roles on two groups that govern regional transportation issues. (For the South Corridor line, the federal government paid half the $462.7 million price tag, while CATS and the state each paid 25 percent.)
Myers said by email last week that President-elect Obama may be more open to light rail.
“The Obama administration may be more amenable to increasing the overall amount of funding for rapid transit projects,” Myers said. “This could enhance the Independence Corridor's likelihood of receiving federal funding.”
Meanwhile, Matthews' development plans include two light-rail stops – one at CPCC Levine and one near the planned regional sportsplex at the southwest quadrant of the I-485/U.S. 74 interchange.
Commuting by bus and train
Ridership has grown on bus routes reconfigured last year to connect to light rail stations, according to CATS. Here's how the numbers compare from December 2007, the first full month of the route changes, to October 2008:
No.24 Nations Ford, which connects to the Arrowood and Woodlawn road stations: 16,111 then, 23,794 last month.
No. 42 Carowinds, from the South Point Business Park near Carowinds to the I-485/South Boulevard stop: 412 then, 3,589 last month.
No. 43 Ballantyne, which travels to the Sharon Road West station: 3,710 then, 8,259 last month.
No. 44 Fort Mill, from Wells Fargo in Fort Mill to the Arrowood stop: 1,471 to 3,615.
No. 58 Pineville, which runs from the I-485 station to Carolina Place Mall: 12,294 to 16,318.