Politics & Government

First full month of light-rail extension ridership is out. Here's what it shows.

After a decade of planning, Charlotte’s light-rail extension finally opens

Passengers cheered and clapped as Charlotte’s light-rail extension left the UNC Charlotte station at 10 a.m. Friday morning, opening the Lynx Blue line after four years of construction.
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Passengers cheered and clapped as Charlotte’s light-rail extension left the UNC Charlotte station at 10 a.m. Friday morning, opening the Lynx Blue line after four years of construction.

Ridership from the first full month of the Lynx Blue Extension has been released, with passengers decreasing in April compared with its first two weeks in March.

The $1.1 billion Lynx Blue Line Extension opened March 16, connecting uptown to UNC Charlotte.

After the opening, the entire Blue Line averaged 26,064 trips on an average weekday in March. In April, the entire Blue Line averaged 24,333 weekday passenger trips.

The original Lynx line was averaging about 15,500 passenger trips before the extension opened. The Charlotte Area Transit System projected the extension would add nearly 18,000 passenger trips in its first year, for a total of about 33,500 trips.

What's unclear is whether ridership will begin a slow steady climb. That's what happened with the original Blue Line in 2007, when more and more people rode the train in the first six months of operation.

Retired UNC Charlotte transportation professor David Hartgen said it's important to see at least five more months of ridership data before making a judgment on the extension's success or failure.

But he said he doesn't see any factors that could push ridership higher in the year. In the summer, most UNC Charlotte students won't be on campus, which could hurt ridership. UNC Charlotte students can ride CATS buses and the Lynx for free because they have paid for a mandatory transit pass as part of their student fees.

"We need a few months to really see it," Hartgen said.

CATS Public Relations Manager Krystel Green shares three things people should know before riding the Lynx light rail

Hartgen has station-by-station boardings for the first two weeks of the extension, which he obtained from CATS.

In those two weeks, the Parkwood and 25th Street stations near uptown barely had any passengers. The Parkwood station had 156 passengers and the 25th Street station had 102. That means over the course of a full day and night of service, about eight people an hour boarded trains at the Parkwood Station.

The busiest station is the main station uptown, at the Charlotte Transportation Center, which had 4,835 boardings in a 24-hour period.

On the original Blue Line, all of the park-and-ride lots and decks are free. On the extension, CATS charges riders $10 at JW Clay Boulevard and University City Boulevard parking decks if they don't have a daily, weekly or monthly pass. CATS said it doesn't have any plans to end that fee.

CATS Public Relations Manager Krystel Green talks about how to buy a fare for the Lynx light rail using a ticket vending machine or an app.

There are two other park-and-ride lots on the extension that are free, at Old Concord Road and Sugar Creek stations.

The Lynx Blue Line Extension has had a bigger impact on Saturday ridership.

Saturday ridership was 19,622 in April. It averaged just under 28,000 Saturday trips in March, but that number was boosted by 42,000 passengers on the second full day of operation, when thousands of people rode the train out of curiosity.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs
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