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Charlotte’s new streetcars don’t have a schedule. Why not?

Confetti hangs on Charlotte's first streetcar in 77 years following a ribbon cutting ceremony and inaugural ride on Tuesday, July 14, 2015.
Confetti hangs on Charlotte's first streetcar in 77 years following a ribbon cutting ceremony and inaugural ride on Tuesday, July 14, 2015. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte’s new Gold Line streetcar service operates every 15 minutes during rush hour and every 20 minutes during off-peak hours.

But the Charlotte Area Transit System is not publishing a schedule for the streetcars, which opened Tuesday.

One reason is that the streetcars are operating in traffic and are vulnerable to traffic congestion, just as vehicles are. The Lynx Blue Line operates in its own right-of-way, which makes it easier to keep a timetable.

But CATS publishes timetables for bus routes, which are also subject to traffic jams.

Buses can swerve and change routes due to street closures and accidents. CityLYNX Gold Line vehicles cannot.

CATS spokesperson Hillary Ryan

CATS spokesperson Hillary Ryan said the Gold Line is replacing the free Gold Rush shuttle, which also operated without a schedule.

She said another factor is that the streetcar, unlike a bus, can’t move around traffic jams. That gives drivers less flexibility. If there is an accident on Elizabeth Avenue, the streetcar can’t make a couple of quick turns to avoid the jam.

“At CATS we do everything we can to maintain an on-time schedule, but with rails in the street and not being able to detour, it’s most efficient to say we will be at the stops every 15 minutes,” Ryan said.

She added: “If incidents do occur, for example a car not being parked inside the lines on Elizabeth Street, those cars will have to be towed as the streetcar cannot swerve around it, which will cause a delay in service. Buses can swerve and change routes due to street closures and accidents. CityLYNX Gold Line vehicles cannot.”

CATS has also worked to educate pedestrians and motorists that the streetcars take longer to stop than a regular car. The transit system said the streetcars take about 100 feet to stop at 16 mph.

“Just like if you are following a large bus or semi-truck, you travel at a safe distance and respect the difference of the size of the vehicle as you drive around it,” Ryan said.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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