Politics & Government

First-day light-rail extension ridership was strong. After that....

Weekday ridership for the first two weeks of the Lynx Blue Line Extension was below the transit system's first-year projection, though Saturday ridership has been strong.

The Charlotte Area Transit System released Friday ridership for the first two weeks of the $1.1 billion extension from uptown to UNC Charlotte, which opened March 16.

Before the extension opened, the 9.7-mile Lynx Blue Line carried about 15,500 passenger trips on the average weekday. CATS projected the 9.3-mile extension would add about 18,000 weekday passenger trips in its first year. That would be a total of about 33,500 weekday passengers.

The opening day of the extension, on a Friday, had strong ridership, with 37,527 trips.

The first full week of the train averaged 23,785 weekday trips.

The second full week of the train averaged 26,050 weekday trips.

The line's opening coincided with spring break for some schools, though Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools was off the following week, in April.

When the Lynx first opened 10 years ago, ridership grew slowly over the first six months. Then, in the summer of 2008, gas prices spiked, and ridership approached 18,000 weekday trips.

Saturday has been a strong day for ridership on the extension. That could be driven by UNC Charlotte students, who may be using the train to leave campus and go uptown.

On Saturday, March 17, the entire Blue Line carried 42,728 passengers. On the next two Saturdays, the full line carried 19,748 passengers and 21,036 passengers.

Before the extension opened, the Lynx Blue Line usually carried between 9,000 and 10,500 passengers on a typical Saturday.

In a news release Friday, CATS did not mention its first-year projection of 18,000 weekday trips. CATS chief executive John Lewis said the ridership "demonstrates the community’s acceptance and desire for increased transit options as an alternative to traffic congestion."

The extension could be a harder sell for commuters than the existing light-rail line. The Lynx Blue Line has a large park-and-ride station at Interstate 485, which attracts people from Ballantyne and South Carolina. The plan for the extension was to also have a park-and-ride station at I-485 in northeast Charlotte, but that was cut because of budget cuts.

The extension has four park-and-ride stations. Two of those park-and-ride stations, at Sugar Creek and University City Boulevard, have been mostly empty.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs