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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis January 13, 2012
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What CATS Is Doing To Keep Moving Forward In 2012
BY CAROLYN FLOWERS, Chief Executive Officer, Charlotte Area Transit System, Charlotte, NC

The passage by Congress of federal surface transportation authorization legislation in 2012 will be crucial for all public transportation agencies as we plan for the future. Long-term funding is essential to maintaining current service and infrastructure as well as developing commuting options.

All public transit leaders need to rally the support of their local, state, and congressional leaders to keep this legislation in the forefront as we strive to create growing, sustainable, and livable communities. However, while we await authorization and work through these tough economic times, agencies must not sit still and wait for things to get better on their own.

The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) has continued forging ahead despite seeing local sales tax receipts diminish to 2005 levels. We continue to look for efficiencies and processes that will bring greater productivity despite a decrease in our funding.

The proposed LYNX Blue Line Extension (BLE) is a good example of this. In 2011, CATS staff made project changes to the BLE to reduce the cost of the light rail project by approximately 20 percent. We reviewed all aspects of the line, including how to accommodate initial ridership demand and provide flexibility in the future. By shortening the project, CATS kept key project elements that will ensure a high-quality cross-county system, reliable service, and safe and secure operations.

The BLE received a Record of Decision by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) in December 2011 and we expect to enter Final Design on this project in May 2012. The state already has announced its intent to fund 25 percent of the BLE project cost.

CATS is awaiting a signed State Full Funding Grant Agreement this year, as well as a federal Full Funding Grant Agreement from FTA.

We were also fortunate to receive an $18 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery III grant from DOT for capacity enhancements along the LYNX Blue Line. It will allow CATS to increase capacity for current and future ridership growth by lengthening existing platforms on the light rail line and adding power upgrades to accommodate three-car trains.

With less money to invest in the transit system, CATS looked at finding new sources of revenue and innovative ways to finance projects—such as private-public partnerships. One such established partnership is the Charlotte Transportation Center in Uptown Charlotte, owned and maintained by Bank of America, with CATS running central bus and rail operations at the location.

The most recent innovative financing strategy for CATS is the proposed Red Line Regional Rail Project. This is a regional economic development initiative that could significantly improve the movement of both goods and passengers along a 25-mile section of track running south from Mooresville to Charlotte, with potential future extension north from Mooresville to Statesville, NC.

The full cost of the project is proposed to be funded through a partnership including the state of North Carolina, 25 percent; CATS, 25 percent; and seven jurisdictions along this corridor, including the city of Charlotte; towns of Mooresville, Davidson, Cornelius, and Huntersville; and Iredell and Mecklenburg counties, 50 percent.

The local share of funding is envisioned to come from a combination of value capture mechanisms. Value capture funding uses development-generated revenue streams to fund public infrastructure.

The Red Line Task Force has collaborated with the business and development communities to identify several value capture revenue streams that will be targeted for use as a result of unique value created by improvements to the corridor. The seven local entities are now reviewing the plan; each hopes to make a decision on their involvement in the next six months.

CATS is also generating additional revenue with the reintroduction of advertising on the outside of its vehicles, for the first time in 10 years. Ads returned to the vehicles in July 2011 and, in just 45 days after starting the new advertising revenue program, Titan Outdoor secured advertising contracts exceeding the first-year revenue guarantee of $562,500. In October the Metropolitan Transit Commission voted to expand advertising to all CATS vehicles due to the success of the program.

Implementing new revenue sources and finding internal efficiencies have allowed CATS to maintain its core services for customers and to develop its transit plans for the future as the Charlotte area continues to thrive and grow. We will continue on this forward path in 2012.

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