Transit ridership has declined on light rail and buses this year, but the Charlotte Area Transit System is investigating whether passengers are being properly counted.
CATS said current fare revenue is at or above levels in 2014, even though ridership has declined , according to the transit system’s reports. In September, ridership was down 5.6 percent compared with the same month a year earlier.
Lynx Blue Line ridership was down 7.5 percent. Ridership on regional express buses, which bring commuters from neighboring counties, was down 13.2 percent.
The drop in ridership coincided with a drop in gas prices.
But because fare revenue is stable, CATS thinks people may still be riding, but not being counted.
CATS staff believes the problem is technology.CATSBsaid the fare collection system is 17-years-old, and the transit system often receives complaints about fare boxes that aren’t working.
Olaf Kinard, director of marketing and communications for CATS, said the transit system is preparing to replace all of the fare boxes. That could cost $8 million.
“A lot of times we replace a bus, and the fare box on the new bus is the fare box from the old bus,” Kinard said. “We have needed to replace them.”
CATS believes that the boxes are not keeping an accurate tally of riders.
“If ridership numbers were actually declining, it would follow that fare revenue would also decline,” CATS chief executive John Lewis said during the October meeting of the Metropolitan Transit Commission, which is the governing body for CATS.
“Riders may not be counted accurately or at all, or may be riding without paying a fare,” said Lewis, according to a city summary of the meeting.
The Lynx Blue Line counts passengers with an automated system that creates a tally of when people get on the train.