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Cornelius News

Major increase in Park and Ride usage in Cornelius

Park and Ride lot in 2022 and 2021 (inset)

July 5. By Dave Vieser. When it comes to ridership on CATS buses using the Cornelius Park and Ride lot, what a difference a year makes. As the photos show, commuters are using it much more than a year ago.

There are two routes which use the lot located on Sefton Park: The North Mecklenburg Express (77X) and Village Rider (97).

Ridership on 77X in May 2021 was just 315 for the entire month, but in May of this year it increased to 3,146, a tenfold increase. Figures for the Village Rider are up too, though less dramatically: A 76 percent increase from May 2021 to May 2022.

The reasons for the increases: Higher gasoline prices combined with more offices reopening in Charlotte post-pandemic.

“Typically, when gas prices rise, we do see an increase in ridership,” said CATS spokeswoman Jennifer Frost. CATS systemwide ridership between May of last year and May this year was up 16.2 percent, which includes both bus and rail.

The 77X route takes commuters to Charlotte via I-77. One-way fare is $3 so when a motorist works out the fare via bus vs. gas, which has been averaging between $4.50 and $4.75 a gallon, the $6 round trip daily fare looks like a pretty good deal, especially as long as gasoline prices remain so high.

Some of the increase in ridership has also been caused by the continued reopening of offices in the Queen City. For example, Duke Energy has about 6,000 employees in the Charlotte area, and most of the employees returning to offices first had a hybrid schedule that allowed them to split time between working remotely and working in the office. With more offices now open, the increase is reflected with CATS ridership as well as more traffic congestion.

“We’ve absolutely noticed an increase in the volume of traffic lately,” said Cornelius Police Chief Kevin Black at a recent Town Board Meeting.

Of course, the added use of the CATS buses also puts pressure on the system.

“Recruitment is a challenge” said CATS CEO John M. Lewis Jr. “When you combine high turnover rates with an inability to meet those rates and overcome those rates from a recruitment standpoint, we find ourselves in a perfect storm. Earlier in  May, we had close to 100 open positions, focusing mostly on the bus operations. That’s begun to improve.”

What’s ahead?

Post-COVID office reopening has likely leveled off, but If gasoline prices stay high, the CATS system will in all likelihood continue to carry more passengers. Meanwhile, South Carolina-based Shaw Resources plans to build 344 multi-family units and a hotel with a conference center on 10 acres of property on the other side off Sefton Park. Marketing efforts will highlight proximity to the CATS property. The target date for opening the first of the multifamily units is sometime in 2024.