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Are Uber, Lyft taking transit passengers from CATS?

Fares for city buses and trains could go up in July, under a proposal from Charlotte Area Transit System. John D. Simmons - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
Fares for city buses and trains could go up in July, under a proposal from Charlotte Area Transit System. John D. Simmons - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com John D. Simmons - jsimmons@charl

Ridership on Charlotte Area Transit System buses and trains continues to be down compared with the same period a year ago.

The transit system has said broken fare boxes on buses may not be counting passengers accurately, and chief executive John Lewis suggested a new reason Wednesday: CATS riders are moving to ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.

“This is a challenge for the transit industry,” Lewis told City Council at a budget meeting Wednesday. “The shared ride community is having an impact on transit.”

Lewis said nights and weekends are down especially, and he believes that’s when most people are turning to ride-hailing companies.

Lewis said ridership declines have varied by month. Earlier this fall, they were down about 10 percent compared with a year earlier.

CATS plans to replace the fare boxes on its buses this year. The fare boxes allow passengers to pay their fare, and they also make passenger counts.

Lewis said many of the boxes are broken.

“Right now, I do not have a high level of reliability on our ridership levels because of one major factor: Our fare boxes on our buses are over 15 years old,” Lewis said. “We have a high percentage on a daily basis that fail.”

He added: “I can’t say how many people we aren’t counting or how much revenue we aren’t taking in.”

Gas prices have also plummeted, and it’s possible some people have decided taking transit doesn’t make as much financial sense as in the past.

CATS expects a $2.8 million operating deficit for the coming year.

The current bus and train fare is $2.20. Lewis has recommended either a nickel increase; a dime increase; or to keep fares level but reduce the discounts offered on passes that offer unlimited rides.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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