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CATS Long Term Transit Plan - Silver, Red Lines


monsoon

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1 hour ago, RANYC said:

Imagine CATS as a tech & data-driven mobility broker.  Riders lacking their own mobility would sign up and each day on mobile devices, enter a couple of essential appointment times for the following day, and a series of advanced tech algorithms would balance out need and supply to generate an optimal fleet deployment (cars, vans, trucks, buses) & pickup schedule and deliver these times & instructions to riders via their mobile devices.

Would need to ensure riders have mobile devices.  Could target the poor and elderly for these tech-driven mobility services.

I wouldn't give CATS that much credit when it comes to anything related to tech. 

CATS can't even successfully roll out a contactless payment system that other cities (both large and small) have had in place for 20+ years now.

I even emailed someone at CATS several years ago and asked what the timeline of that system was, and they said something akin to "7-12 months"...maybe he meant years.

Edited by LKN704
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9 minutes ago, LKN704 said:

I wouldn't give CATS that much credit when it comes to anything related to tech. 

CATS can't even successfully roll out a contactless payment system that other cities (both large and small) have had in place for 20+ years now.

I even emailed someone at CATS several years ago and asked what the timeline of that system was, and they said something akin to "7-12 months"...maybe he meant years.

Clearly my vision statement doesn't assume CATS' current leadership, and frankly, doesn't even assume its current purpose, charter, and operating model.

But with the way the world is changing and with how advanced analytics and cloud computing are becoming central to everything, I think it fair to question and challenge the sustainability of the same approach to operating, even if we get new leadership.

Edited by RANYC
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2 hours ago, kermit said:

IMO the only way to substantially change the perception of buses in Charlotte would be to make uptown parking MUCH more expensive. This, of course, would also require a) decent frequency; b) completely erasing all this work from home / pandemic business. 

Charlotte had a huge advantage for transit before the pandemic -- commonality of destination, uptown had an unusually large share of metro employment for a Southern city. That may never come back. 

In short, I don't think a bus comeback is in the cards in Charlotte. Honestly we would be wasting our time trying IMO.

I don't know. I think actually having buses show up and increasing the frequency could really help. I agree that the current leadership of CATS isn't going to accomplish either, but it is a solvable issue.

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1 hour ago, LKN704 said:

I wouldn't give CATS that much credit when it comes to anything related to tech. 

CATS can't even successfully roll out a contactless payment system that other cities (both large and small) have had in place for 20+ years now.

I even emailed someone at CATS several years ago and asked what the timeline of that system was, and they said something akin to "7-12 months"...maybe he meant years.

I took the streetcar recently, and paid for my trip with the CATS app (contactless, yes?), and the app accurately predicted streetcar arrival to the minute.  Once on the car, I learned that the streetcar is still fare-free.  I went ahead and paid for the return trip as well.  

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20 minutes ago, RANYC said:

I took the streetcar recently, and paid for my trip with the CATS app (contactless, yes?), and the app accurately predicted streetcar arrival to the minute.  Once on the car, I learned that the streetcar is still fare-free.  I went ahead and paid for the return trip as well.  

Contactless meaning contactless smart cards...not contactless as in no-touch. The CATS app is great, but what if you don't own a smartphone? What if your phone dies?

Having a smartcard-based system that works in conjunction with the mobile app mitigates all of that...

Unrelated, but I downloaded the CATS app to see what the interface is like, and the cost of a monthly pass is $88? That seems outrageously high for a system the size of CATS. 

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Went and got coffee yesterday with an old friend who just moved to DC to work for DDOT after working for Metro in Portland. He’s from Ballantyne and went to NC State but left immediately after graduating and hasn’t really been back except to see family. His background isn’t specifically in the public transit space (he’s a civil engineer and works more so in land use planning) but he is pretty familiar with transit as it comes with the territory, and he was pretty knowledgeable about both Charlotte and CATS’ transit plans. 
We didn’t talk about the Red Line or the Streetcar, but he thinks essentially everything about the Silver Line in its current planned form is a joke, from the low-density stations past the airport to the Silver Line alignment in Uptown. Given the estimated low ridership of the line west of Uptown (I think only 10K?) he questioned whether Charlotte warrants a fixed guideway system to the airport, and wonders if a true BRT system would be more sufficient. 
Full disclaimer, he is a big proponent of buses…he absolutely loves them and hates taking the train. He lives in a neighborhood in DC called Glover Park, which sits about a mile north of Georgetown. It’s a cute, preppy neighborhood, filled with rowhouses on side streets, and a main street/small town-like business district along Wisconsin Ave…it essentially feels like if you collided an longer strip of Downtown Davidson with the South End, removed both the low density and newer buildings (especially the new apartments and high rises) of the South End, and placed the entire neighborhood on steep hill. Anyways, the neighborhood isn’t served by the rail network. What it does have, however, is a series of busses (the 30 series) that when combined, arrive every 5-10 minutes between 6am and 9pm, and then every 15 minutes between 9pm and midnight, then every 30 minutes between midnight and 2am, and between 4am and 6am, for service that runs 22 hours a day. They run essentially from a Metro station near the MD border, past another Metro station near American University, then through Glover Park and Georgetown to Downtown, hitting several other Metro stops along the way, so it’s easy to transfer to rail if you need to. 
In any case, he essentially believes that revitalizing the bus network is the best way for Charlotte transit going forward. I should have written down everything he said but basically he believes the following should be done in favor of a grandiose rail plan:
1)    Revitalize the bus network while also decentralizing the need for the CTC in Uptown while emphasizing crosstown service. 
2)    Create bus transit corridors in denser parts of the city (like Park Rd, Providence/Sharon/South Park, Central, The Plaza, Eastway, Albermarle, and Harris) that feature service with headways no greater than every 20 minutes, along with features that make the bus more attractive to riders, like floating bus islands with lighted shelters with CCTV and seating at every stop, all door boarding, and dedicated bus lanes with signal priority when needed…so essentially not true BRT but enhanced bus service. 
3)    In areas where enhanced bus service as above isn’t feasible or warranted, at least improve the bus experience by working to implement more lighted shelters at stops to give the appearance of a safer, more comfortable system. 
4)    Work to remove the stigma that buses have in Charlotte. 
I hate saying this, but frankly I am inclined to agree with him in a way. Personally, I am not sure what can be done regarding the bus stigma in Charlotte. Apparently said stigma is worse than I had thought, because a few articles I just quickly found all point to Charlotte as an example where the stigma is particularly bad. 
I think the Silver Line could be successful if it had a better alignment through Uptown (possibly by tunneling) and was truncated to end at the Airport District (with a connection to a CLT people mover) and the Bojangles Coliseum but was built in a way to enable a future extension if conditions warranted.
While a stop directly at the airport terminal would be preferred, I don’t think that would be possible unless we didn’t plan on any future westward expansions. There’s too much development in terms of garages and such in the way that the only way you would be able to build an airport station directly at the terminal as an intermediate stop would be to tunnel and tunneling on airport property comes with all sorts of red tape in terms of FAA/DHS that the cost simply wouldn’t be worth it in terms of ridership. 
My ideal version of the Silver Line leaves the existing stops at the Coliseum and Independence/Morningside, then leaves the Independence alignment with a stop at Central/Pecan and McDowell and 10th Street, stopping at CTC/Arena and Gateway, then stopping at Cedar St near the Stadium and 3rd Ward, and then continuing with the existing proposed alignment with a stop at Suttle, Remount, Old Steele Creek, Morris Field, Billy Graham, and the Airport District:
http://up-bucket-0.s3.amazonaws.com/monthly_2022_09/2E454298-3FD6-499C-A4E6-35600EEF90AF.thumb.jpeg.f1616228709ebbdabb31c3f68e9925c5.jpeg
The total length of this line would be less than 10 miles.  Until making this map, I had no idea what a total low-density wasteland Wilkinson was...filled with strip clubs, gun stores, and gas stations. I assume the goal of the city via the Silver Line is to force gentrification on this area?

Id like to add that a lot of people worry about gentrification, but building new doesn’t necessarily cause gentrification, it’s lack of policy to protect homeowners and rentals against being priced out through rising property values, the market’s distribution of NOAH and lack of investment by government agencies. Development itself doesn’t cause gentrification.
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17 hours ago, LKN704 said:

Yes, the bus system in Charlotte and other medium-sized cities is a de facto transit system of last resort. 

I don’t think you should be attacked for having those sentiments against the bus system in Charlotte, and you certainly aren’t alone in having those feelings. The very few times I took the bus when I was at UNCC I had a horrible experience, both on the bus and in terms of reliability (the bus frequently just never showed up) that I never gave it another go after a few tries.

I just don’t get how other cities have moved beyond the bus stigma to get everyone from all walks of life onboard. 

Obviously, frequency and the quality of service plays a major factor, but if you immediately improved headways overnight in Charlotte (let’s say to make every bus run every 10-15 minutes) I doubt you would see a dramatic increase in ridership. 

Other large cities have similar (if not worse) problems in terms of mental illness and homelessness, so I don’t see how that is a major factor. Is it because larger cities have more extensive social services? Are people in larger cities just more immune to social/societal ills? 

I’ve seen so many “interesting” things riding on the bus in DC, especially at night…from a baby being made (I thought it was just two people arguing over a seat at first) to a person screaming that there was a rabid dog on the bus (there was no dog onboard) to some creep next to me who was passionately sucking on a lollipop and shoving it in my face asking if I wanted a lick, and I have friends that have seen way worse. I’ve never felt unsafe however, and the buses are (generally) clean and tidy, and most stops have lighted shelters with passenger information displays.

Maybe other cities have a historic commuting/public transit culture that never existed in Charlotte?  

The problem is here in Charlotte the bus doesn't connect you to shopping centers, grocery stores, or entertainment districts. Unless you need to go uptown the bus is fairly useless. I think more people would ride the bus if we had more cross town routes. Examples like plaza to midtown. 

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1 hour ago, tozmervo said:

Plenty of bus routes connect to plenty of shopping centers along their paths. I think there's an expectation that you can get from any particular point to another point without ever changing buses, and that system just doesn't exist anywhere. If I live along Central, I can use route 9 to get to several shopping destinations, but I can't take it directly to Park Road shopping center. CATS correctly "envisions" a short-headway network that enables those kinds of trips to happen without painful transfers, but they are a long way and a lot of money from having that network.

I get a sense (without any actual data) that American’s have a greater tendency to shop at more distant places than Europeans do (‘the Home Depot on Wendover has cheaper 12 foot skeletons than the  Southend, Lowes, so I’ll head over there”). This seems like a weird, and very inefficient,  habit given the homogeneity of US retail. American’s also end up with more far-flung jobs than Europeans but this is mostly just a product of sprawl.

Seems like places where buses do well, people almost always shop at the closest place (or go downtown when they need something fancy). I wonder if online retail delivery of more psuedo-luxury items might help reduce this problem (long ‘commutes’ to shop) in the US? This certainly happened with electronics (I make many fewer trips to Circuit City than I used to!)

Edited by kermit
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22 hours ago, tozmervo said:

the crosstown routes have historically performed horribly

I have no doubt that the service probably performed badly, but don't most crosstown routes (be it bus or rail) in cities across the US tend to perform poorly when compared to the rest of the system? 

I recall MTA threatening to cut x-town bus routes numerous times in recent years stating that the subway and other buses could absorb most riders, and the x-town G train has historically always been the first to see cutbacks. Metro in DC always constantly threatens to cut or make massive adjustments to their x-town network annually come budget season, and the District government fights Metro tooth and nail each year to "save" various services along each x-town line. 

I've always been under the impression that major systems in larger cities are willing to operate x-town routes at a loss for connectivity reasons (as they have several more profitable routes where they can recoup the x-town's loss...smaller system's like CATS don't have that privilege), and in order to appease to local governments...as the x-town buses often go through underserved communities where no other transit goes. 

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Little does many realize, the City of Charlotte (CoC) treats CATS like it's a moneymaking business enterprise similar to how they operate the CLT Airport.

Transit has never operated in such a fashion of profitability rather a public utility for everyone anywhere.  However, transit does have more sexier components that draws up choice riders such as fixed guideway (bus rapid transit, streetcar, light rail, and heavy rail) along with express buses and  transit-oriented development (TOD). This is what works in general. 

Furthermore, there's a philosophy that CATS, whoses GM reports directly to the CoC City Manager, if they see any inefficiencies in bus routes or even frequencies whether due to operators or ridership,  they are told to fix it. As a result, they are directed (by City management) to eliminate the route(s) or reduces overall service frequency. 

That's also explains why the CoC operates like a business rather than a municipal government in many areas to our detriment.  Finally, another reason and obvious fallacy of why CATS shouldn't be directed tied to the CoC. 

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5 hours ago, CLT2014 said:

Let's be real -> the cross town bus service is a joke... that's why ridership sucks. Look at Route #28 for example that connects the Eastland Transportation Center to South Park Mall. This should be a slam dunk route.... the mall is a major employment center and many workers at the mall live in East Charlotte (hence the route). Instead, the majority of people will need to drive to work because the service is awful and the route doesn't live up to its true ridership potential.

The first bus of the day leaves Eastland at 8:56AM and arrives at 9:29AM in South Park. That's perfect for mall employees that have a 9:45AM shift start for the stores that open at 10AM in the mall right? Well here's the dumb part..... the last bus of the day leaving South Park back to East Charlotte is at 6:26PM.... which doesn't work for employees working evening shifts. Most of the stores at the mall are open until 8 or 9PM. Thus mall employees need to have a car because the bus service stopped for hours. Most mall employees have to rotate between a mix of day, evening, and weekends shifts during the week. So since you need a car to make it to evening shifts.... so might as well just drive to all your shifts since you need to own a car to get to work  part of the time anyhow and it is faster. 

Tell us how you would “simply” fix it oh wise one? Every time you get these anecdotal solutions with no data, experience, etc….It’s a gotdamn bus system in a sunbelt city where even if the most ideal route, frequency, etc was available,  99% of the people with easy  access on the route would still drive.

Do y’all really think humans are driving most of the core operational decision these days? Really?  

Edited by Durhamite
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2 hours ago, davidclt said:

I think making a reliable, pleasant, efficient service would make more people "choice" users. All routes need at the very most 20-minute headways and all routes are served while the system is operating (the BS that is our MetroRapid joke service is just that a BS joke). All stops have seating, garbage cans, a route map and indicators of when the next bus will be along updated in real-time. The stops are maintained like we're proud of our city and our transit system. No bus stop is just a sign on a disconnected patch of grass. All buses on major thoroughfares should have signal priority with severe penalties ($500+ and escalating) for drivers that skip the queue. The website needs to have useful trip planning capability (as does the app) and a useful route map and route information (our site and app still suck horribly). I will cite the Sprinter service. Go to the site and try to find the schedule for "Sprinter" if you don't know the route number, even if you do, our airport service runs every 20 minutes. I'm not waiting at the dank curbside of CLT for 20 minutes if I happen to miss the bus (it should run every 7 minutes max or 10 off peak). The service could be the first choice for many but looking at the route on Wilkinson, not of the infrastructure has been maintained and none of it works. On Lynx, the stations aren't maintained, the signage is crap. Everything about our system screams cheap, cheap, cheap.

Yes, this would cost a boatload of money but it would pay dividends in the long term. We'd also have to give it more than three months to succeed (see the Central Avenue bus lane).

After all of that winded response you finally got to the crux of problem.  MONEY.  And I stand by my original position on bus ridership. It could be pristine  infrastructure, frequency etc. most people just aren’t gonna ride the bus if they don’t have to, it’s who we are in the sunbelt.  
 

And now we have Uber, etc…they’re up against a serious head wind like other public transportation systems.  Money will help but changing behaviors is a whole different ball game without major incentives. The only reason I took the metro to work in DC was because the federal gubment almost totally subsidized my smart card (federal employee).  Otherwise, I had other and quicker options. Now, if you live in the city, it’s different the story but the majority of DC metro residents don’t.

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11 hours ago, Durhamite said:

After all of that winded response you finally got to the crux of problem.  MONEY.  And I stand by my original position on bus ridership. It could be pristine  infrastructure, frequency etc. most people just aren’t gonna ride the bus if they don’t have to, it’s who we are in the sunbelt.  

And now we have Uber, etc…they’re up against a serious head wind like other public transportation systems.  Money will help but changing behaviors is a whole different ball game without major incentives. The only reason I took the metro to work in DC was because the federal gubment almost totally subsidized my smart card (federal employee).  Otherwise, I had other and quicker options. Now, if you live in the city, it’s different the story but the majority of DC metro residents don’t.

In all seriousness, I guess I am somewhat confused with your opinion...should Charlotte and cities in the sunbelt just stop investing in transit altogether then? Should cities in the sunbelt further make service cuts to their networks and essentially make them a system of last resort?

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