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Will light-rail extension lure riders?

When a light-rail extension opens in 2017, ridership on the existing line could increase, as passengers have additional destinations.

The Charlotte Area Transit System is building a 9.3-mile extension of the light-rail line to University City that is scheduled to open in 2017.

Besides that $1.1 billion project, the city is building a $37 million, 1.5-mile streetcar line in uptown that’s scheduled to open early this summer. The initial Lynx line cost $462 million to build.

Krystel Green, a CATS spokeswoman, said the agency doesn’t have detailed information about its riders, in terms of whether they used to drive to work or which route they used to take before switching to public transportation.

She said the majority of riders are commuting to work.

Besides the new lines, a rise in gas prices also could boost ridership. How quickly ticket prices increase could affect their popularity as well.

In the summer of 2008, for example, Lynx ridership soared as gas prices hit $4 a gallon and people were trying out the new line. The cost of a one-way train ticket that year was $1.30 and then rose to $1.50 in the fall.

The cost of operating the train has increased, according to statistics that CATS is required to submit to the federal government.

In 2008, the first full year of the Lynx Blue Line, CATS spent $9.5 million operating the light-rail. That jumped to $17.5 million in 2012 and then fell to $13.1 million in 2013, the most recent year available.

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