Lake area express bus use declines as gas prices fall

Lake area express bus use declines as gas prices fall

By Dave Vieser. While lower fuel prices may have have a positive impact on the economy, here’s one thing that appears to have been impacted negatively: Ridership on CATS Express Buses.

“Some of our express routes have seen a decline in ridership, most likely due to lower gas prices,” said CATS spokeswoman Krystel Green. “The price of fuel seems to affect express ridership more than local ridership, which has actually increased.”

Ridership statistics provided by CATS prove the point. Annual passenger counts on the 44-X Huntersville Express dropped from 105,282 in 2013 to 95,617 last year. Similarly, the 77-X route to Davidson dropped 7.3 percent from 192,343 to 178, 577.

CATS officials feel the ridership trends will reverse as fuel prices go back up. To prove their point, efforts are underway to find a suitable location for a park and ride lot in Cornelius. Although a healthy number of express bus riders live in Cornelius, the town has never had a park and ride facility within its borders where riders can leave their autos and access CATS Express Buses.

“CATS is working on developing a Park and Ride lot in the vicinity of the former Bi-Lo’s Shopping Center,” said Assistant Town Manager Andrew Grant. CATS is “doing some real estate analysis to determine the proper location,” Green said.

Still to be determined is whether that lot would encompass part of the unused space that served Bi-Lo’s or the vacant parcels nearby. Either would appear to be an ideal spot with easy and quick access to both West Catawba Avenue and I-77.

Either would eliminate some Cornelius bus riders from driving on highways from Cornelius to Huntersville for the closest Park and Ride Facility.

Nevertheless, there have been some bright spots for other express routes. In June 2014 CATS introduced a new express service from Northlake Mall directly to the airport. That service has carried 28,783 riders in the last six months.

Although it travels I-485, it serves the Northlake area located near I-77. Also, CATS is in the planning stages of a route adjustment that would extend Route 53X-Northlake to Highland Creek, using a portion of I-77 and spanning both Mecklenburg and Cabarrus Counties.

In addition to fuel prices, another wild card for the future are the planned toll lanes on I-77. While it’s too soon for specifics, some route changes are likely in order for the express buses to traverse the express lanes on the interstate while also accessing the proper exits for park and ride facilities.


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