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LYNX Rapid Transit Services comprises a light rail line serviced by the Charlotte Area Transit System in Charlottemarker, North Carolinamarker, United Statesmarker. It commenced service on November 24, 2007, and runs through Uptown and South End, before paralleling South Boulevard to its southern terminus just north of Interstate 485 at the Pinevillemarker city limits. Contrary to name, the system is a light rail, not rapid transit.

Future expansion includes plans for light rail, commuter rail, streetcars and bus rapid transit along the five corridors in the 2030 Transit Corridor System Plan adopted in 2006 by Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC). Build-out of the entire system is presently estimated for completion by 2034.

History

LYNX car #104
As Charlotte began to see extensive growth by the 1980s, it became desirable to control and focus the expansion. By 1984, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning commission made its first recommendation for a light rail line connecting Uptown Charlotte with the University of North Carolina at Charlottemarker as part of the community's 2005 Vision Plan as a means to control growth. The service was to have become the first major rapid rail service of any kind in North Carolinamarker, and serve as a revival of rail transit within the city since the original streetcar network was disbanded in 1938 in favor of motorized bus transit.

After remaining dormant for nearly three years, the light rail debate once again emerged as a light rail/mass transit task force was established by then-mayor Sue Myrick in early 1988. The task force received $185,000 for the initial study of the system. The system was envisioned to consist of three lines radiating out from Uptown Charlotte. One line was to envisioned to connect with the University of North Carolina at Charlottemarker to the northeast; a second was envisioned to connect Pinevillemarker, with expansion envisioned to both Fort Millmarker and Rock Hillmarker to the south; and a third was envisioned to connect with Matthewsmarker, with expansion envisioned to Monroemarker to the southeast.

By September 1988, the results of the initial study carried out by Barton-Aschman Associates placed a $467 million price tag on a system encompassing a loop around Uptown Charlotte and eight separate corridors radiating in all directions from the city center. The corridors envisioned included one to the east along Albemarle Road, to the southeast connecting with SouthPark, to the southeast connecting with Matthews, to the south connecting with Pineville, to the west connecting with Charlotte-Douglas International Airportmarker, to the northeast connecting with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, to the northwest along Brookshire Boulevard, and to the north connecting with Davidsonmarker. However the plan was significantly more than the $101 million in bonds which was to be used to initiate the project. This combined with being unable to obtain existing rights-of-way essentially shelved the project as being too costly.

By March 1990, CATS only allotted $14 million for light rail development for the duration of the 1990s. Again, overall construction costs were cited in postponing the development of the system. Additionally, the Charlotte proposal at the time did not anticipate sufficient ridership of the system to acquire Federal Transit Administration grant money to develop the system. The $14 million would be used for both the purchasing of abandoned right-of-way as it became available for future light rail development as well as monies for studying a proposed line connecting the Wilgrove area in east Mecklenburg County with Tyvola Road south of Uptown Charlotte.

In 1998, Mecklenburg County voters approved a one-half cent sales tax to be utilized in the implementation of the 2025 Integrated Transit/Land-Use Plan, which include development of a light rail network. Once the tax was approved, the planning for the South Corridor to Pineville commenced.

Although light rail had been envisioned connecting Charlotte to Rock Hill in previous years, official planning for the corridor, later to become the Blue Line, would not commence until 1999. The line was to have initially been $225 million, route serving as a connection between Uptown Charlotte and Pineville along the Norfolk Southern rail line paralleling South Boulevard. In February 2000, the Metropolitan Transit Commission unanimously approved the corridor for the region's first light rail line, and by April, $8.2 million was allocated for the initial purchase of materials for its construction. By September, Parsons Transportation Group was hired by CATS to complete engineering and environmental studies for the corridor, and at this time costs estimates for the completed line increased to $331 million.

In July 2002, the overall costs for completing the line escalated to $371 million as a result of increasing land and construction costs. Additionally, the southern terminus for the line was moved approximately to the north along South Boulevard as a result of low projected ridership figures for the proposed downtown Pineville station, and primarily, as a result of the Mayor of Pineville, George Fowler, and the Pineville Town Council voting to not receive the line. By March 2004, costs of the line again were increased to $398.7 million and were again revised to $427 million by January 2005. The increased estimates were blamed on both rising land and construction costs. After numerous delays caused by increasing cost estimates, the official groundbreaking for the line occurred on February 26, 2005.

On February 22, 2006, CATS unveiled "LYNX" as the official name of its light rail network, chosen from a list of over 250 possibilities including City Lynx and Xcel. The name was partially chosen so as to adhere to the big cat theme in the names of the local professional sports teams, (the Carolina Panthers and the Charlotte Bobcats). "LYNX" was also chosen since it was homophonous with "links", suggesting connectivity.

By September 2006, estimated completion costs for the Blue Line once again were increased. This time the increase was blamed on poor planning and design of the line from the consultants hired by CATS to design the line, Parsons Transportation Group. Revised estimates as of early 2007 called for the project to be completed at a final cost of $462.7 million, more than double the original estimate of $227 million.

On its opening weekend of November 24-25, 2007 all trips were free, resulting in 24,000 rider trips in the first four hours and 60,000 trips in the first day. This was well above maximum rated capacity for LYNX service. Revenue service commenced with the first train on November 26, 2007.

Ridership

Prior to the opening of the line in November 2007, CATS projected ridership for the completed Blue Line to be 9,100 on an average weekday in its first year of operation, and gradually increase to 18,100 by 2025. In its first few months of operation, the Blue Line saw an average daily weekday ridership 8,700 passengers. By the end of the first quarter of 2008, weekday ridership had increased to 18,600, double first-year projections and ahead of the 2025 projections. In March 2008, the single light rail line accounted for 19.5% of total system ridership - 402,600 of the 2,061,700 monthly passenger-trips of all lines including bus, dial-a-ride, and vanpool. For 2008, LYNX handled 4,975,000 trips.

Controversy

Car #103 at the South Boulevard Light Rail Facility
Critics said the system would be a "money hole". Pointing to low projected ridership, Charlotte-Mecklenburg's lack of need for urban rail now and in the future, and the rail's unlikeliness of having a significant effect reducing Charlotte's road congestion, detractors question the cost-effectiveness and sense of the project. The project was scrutinized by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation as being an inefficient use of federal taxpayer dollars as well as being a major issue between incumbent Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory and Democratic opponent Craig Madans in the 2005 mayoral race.

A coalition labeling itself "Stop the Train" launched a petition drive to put a repeal of the 1998 transit tax on the November 2007 ballot, citing cost-overruns and concerns over CATS management. Mecklenburg County elections officials announced in June 2007 that more than enough signatures had been gathered and validated, guaranteeing a referendum on the transit tax. Opponents claimed that $8.9 billion is slated for transit out of a total of $12.7 billion for all transportation projects slated for the Charlotte region (Long Range Plan). Much, if not most, of this cost is due to rail.

The opponents also alleged transit will provide a viable means of transportation for just 2-3% of the Charlotte region's travel needs, and 1% of regional travel, according to David Hartgen, professor of Transportation Policy Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlottemarker Road Transportation advocate Wendell Cox also cites similar concerns of low cost/benefit ratio of the South Corridor line (and urban rail for Charlotte-Mecklenburg). In addition, Sam Staley, Director of Urban and Land Use Policy for the Reason Foundation, says that LYNX, and transit for that matter, struggles to capture riders in a sprawling city like Charlotte, where the majority of trips aren't made to the central city. However, with Charlotte's not having fast, reliable rail transit in the past, there was no incentive for developers to build along public transportation corridors, resulting in even more sprawl. Building rail lines to areas before the developers move in, as is done with superhighway construction, is far cheaper than building lines or subways after the land is all taken.

The campaign to save the tax garnered more than $650,000 - of which at least one third (more than $200,000) came from local corporations such as: Duke Energy, Wachovia, Bank of America, McDonald Transit Associates, Parsons Brinckerhoff, and Siemens (German company that builds the light rail cars) - and more than 20 other known major businesses, all of which former city council member Don Reid claims profit from CATS operations. The group working to repeal the transit tax garnered far less support (under $13,000) mostly from individuals. Mecklenburg County voters overwhelmingly rejected the repeal of the tax, 70 percent to 30 percent, on November 6, 2007.

After opening

The response following the system's opening has been mixed. In the months following opening, the line was averaging 80% over initial projections, leading Light Rail Now to proclaim the line a "Huge Success". Jim Puckett, former Mecklenburg County Commissioner and co-leader of the recall, said in the Charlotte Observer: "I have to admit, they are doing better than I expected.... Our concern was whether we would have a white elephant, and it doesn't seem we do." Still, Lynx still has vocal critics. The Carolina Journal Online reported in August 2008 that taxpayers were subsidizing more than 90% of a rider's trip on what the Journal calls "a lightly used line," and that low estimates were made with lower gas prices. David Hartgen, Emeritus Professor of Transportation Studies at the University of North Carolina, states that the line did not displace car traffic significantly - about half the ridership is prior bus riders. Hartgen also dismisses a city report's claims concerning increased land use as a result. "In short, the big winners are about 4,000 prior bus riders, 4,000 commuters living close to the line, and 400 South Carolina drivers."

Rolling stock

Interior of LYNX car #110
In January 2004, CATS began the process of formally accepting bids for the construction of the system's vehicles. Original estimates for the vehicles was $3.5 million per car with the firms Bombardier, Siemens and Kinki Sharyo bidding for the final contract. The $52 million contract for 16 vehicles was awarded to Siemens on February 25, 2004.

LYNX's fleet initially consisted of 16, , Siemens-built Avanto vehicles, similar to those currently in operation for the METRORail in Houston, Texasmarker. Each vehicle contains 68 seats and have a maximum capacity of 236 passengers complete with four bike racks. Each car has a maximum speed of but top speed will be restricted to with its power coming from 750-volt overhead wires.

The original order of 16 rail cars was manufactured by Siemens, of Berlin, Germanymarker, with delivery complete in 2006-07. These cars are numbered 101-116. Additionally, CATS retains an option to order an additional 25 cars based on ridership once the line is operational. Car 101 arrived via flatbed truck to Charlotte on Friday, June 23, 2006, from the Siemens facility in Sacramento, Californiamarker where it was constructed. Testing of the vehicles commenced in August 2006 along a stretch of completed rail between Tremont Avenue and the light rail maintenance facility off South Boulevard. During the testing phase, each car logged in order to adequately test the acceleration, braking and overall performance for each vehicle.

When not in use, the trains are stored at the South Boulevard Light Rail Facility, located along South Boulevard, between the New Bernmarker and Scaleybarkmarker stations in Sedgefield. The facility is approximately , and houses the LYNX rail maintenance and operations staff and the Rail Operations Control Center in addition to the Bus Operations Control Center. Officially dedicated on June 23, 2007, the facility contains of track and 5,200 ties.

Three replica historic trolleys rejoined the modern fleet in April 2008. These vehicles, along with restored historic Car Number 85, were operated by the nonprofit Charlotte Trolley from the late 1990s until the start of LYNX construction.

Due to better than expected ridership, in May 2008 CATS announced that four additional Avanto vehicles will be purchased to add capacity to the existing 16 vehicles in operation. The trams are to cost $3.8 million each and are expected to be delivered by Siemens in 2010.

Fares

Typical LYNX ticket machine
Fares are purchased on the platform of all stations from self-served ticket vending machines. These machines accept cash, coins and debit and credit cards. Transfers from buses, weekly and monthly passes are also accepted. Fares are equal to those of the existing bus network which as of April 1, 2009 are $1.50 for a one-way trip, $4.00 for a one-day pass, $15.00 for a weekly pass and $60.00 for a monthly pass.

LYNX's fare system is organized on the proof-of-payment system; there are no turnstiles at the entrances to train platforms. Instead, fares are enforced by random sweeps through trains and occasional checks for fares as passengers enter and leave the train by CATS Fare Inspectors. If a passenger is caught without evidence of proper fare, a citation of $50 is issued in addition to potentially facing a Class 3 misdemeanor charge. CATS estimates that between 4 and 5 percent of total fare revenue will be lost from persons who ride without paying.

Following an initial "grace period" between its November 2007 opening and February 2008, CATS took more action with regards to issuing citations for fare jumpers. This was the case as many of the ticket vending machines were not working properly at all stations. As part of what was deemed LYNX's first "fare enforcement blitz" during the first week of February 2008, 41 citations were issued with one arrest in the first day of enhanced enforcement. The cost of issuing the citations was not disclosed, and CATS has not yet issued a projection of the dollars saved (from idling, gas consumption, air pollution, etc.) for each person who switches to public transport. Therefore, it is difficult to ascertain whether Charlotte would fare better by allowing free or extremely low-cost ridership. For example, ridership in Mexico City's enormous Metro system, which carries 1.4 billion passengers per year, is about 20 cents.

Public art

As part of the budget for the LYNX system, a percentage of the overall cost was reserved for both the purchase and display of public art along the route. Through the utilization of less than 1 percent of the overall design and construction budget, 13 artists have been selected to design displays for each of the Blue Line's 15 stations.

Future expansion

Boarding a southbound train at the CTC/Arena Station

Blue Line

An "Northeast Corridor" extension of the present segment is presently in the planning stages, and is estimated to be finished by 2015. This would add another of rail and 14 stations to the system and service UNC Charlotte, the fastest growing campus in the university system.

Red Line

The Red Line is a proposed rail line to be constructed along existing Norfolk Southern tracks and serve the towns of Huntersvillemarker, Corneliusmarker and Davidsonmarker in northern Mecklenburg Countymarker. The line will be serviced by Diesel Multiple Unit trains for a commuter rail service. The southern terminus for the line will be the proposed Gateway Stationmarker in Uptown Charlotte.

Silver Line

The Silver Line is a proposed rapid transit corridor to be operated as either a BRT or light rail line between the CPCC Levine Campusmarker in Matthewsmarker and the proposed Gateway Station in Uptown Charlotte. Proposals call for it to be complete through Idlewild Road by 2022, Sardis Road North by 2024 and finally to CPCC Levine by 2026. As currently aligned, the completed line will have 16 stations at an estimated cost of $582 million. In September 2006, the MTC voted to delay on determining whether BRT or light rail should be built along the corridor until 2011.

Center City Corridor

The Center City Corridor is a proposed streetcar line, connecting the University Park area of west Charlotte with Eastland Mall in east Charlotte via Uptown Charlotte, in a primarily east-west direction. Proposals call for completion by 2018. However, in May 2008 the Charlotte City Council approved $500,000 to study the corridor in terms of an updated cost estimate, economic benefits and the eligibility of the corridor for federal funding in an effort to potentially expedite its construction and open by 2013.

West Corridor

The West Corridor is a proposed streetcar line, connecting Charlotte-Douglas International Airportmarker in west Charlotte with Uptown Charlotte. Proposals call for completion by 2034. With a completion date over two decades out, in 2008 CATS announced enhanced bus service along this corridor to serve as a placeholder until the streetcar can be constructed. The service will commence in early 2009 and feature fewer stops and timing similar to that of the future streetcar route.

See also



References

  1. American Public Transportation Association, Light Rail Transit Ridership Report, First Quarter 2008.


External links

  • CATS Rapid Transit Planning
  • Official link to LYNX Blue Line opened November 24, 2007



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