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Light rail could top 18,000 by year's end

Keith Parker, the city's transit czar, is cautious, not prone to grand statements.

But Parker was ebullient this week about the latest ridership numbers for the Lynx Blue Line. July's weekday average: 16,936 trips.

Before the year ends, Parker thinks Lynx ridership may top the magic number of 18,100 trips, for one month at least. He said the train could average that many trips for an entire year by 2009 or 2010.

When the Lynx opened, CATS projected the train would average 18,100 weekday trips by 2025. Skeptics questioned if that was realistic, and even train boosters admitted it wasn't a certainty.

“Ridership has just been outstanding,” said Parker, who heads the Charlotte Area Transit System. “There's a realistic chance we'll be there by end of the year if we hold on to summer riders.”

Parker said the summer ridership has been surprising because there is usually a drop in transit usage because of vacations. Another surprise: Riders aren't going to special events uptown, which was the case when the train first opened.

Parker said he's considering expanding the parking deck at the Interstate 485/South Boulevard station – something he had been reluctant to do earlier this spring, even when the deck was starting to consistently filling up.

The first parking project will be to pave and stripe a piece of CATS land in between the Steak ‘n Shake and Sonny's BBQ that holds about 80 cars. People have been parking in the dirt there throughout the summer.

Parker also said he's negotiating with nearby businesses for parking spaces. In the next CATS budget, Parker may include money to expand the deck, possibly by building on a small surface lot adjacent to the deck.

“My goal is another 10 to 15 percent parking capacity,” Parker said.

The Lynx has 3,200 parking spaces at seven park-and-ride lots. The Observer counted 2,370 cars at mid-day Tuesday last week. The number of cars has risen steadily since the train's opening, from 500 cars on the first day to about 1,800 in May.

CATS ridership excluding the Lynx was up more than 13 percent in July compared with the same period a year ago. CATS said that July ridership – more than 90,000 daily weekday rides – was the highest in Charlotte in 60 years.