Labor Shortage Hits Charlotte’s Rail Bus System

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More than 45 CATS jobs have been vacant for more than 2 months, Charlotte Area Transit System CEO John Lewis told city council members Monday, Feb. 14, 2022.

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The Charlotte area transit system has an ‘unprecedented number of vacancies,’ CEO John Lewis told Charlotte City Council members Monday in an update on the labor shortage. of the bus system.

CATS has more than 45 open bus jobs that have been vacant for more than two months, Lewis said.

The update came just days after a CATS driver, Ethan Rivera, 41, was fatally shot on the job.

“Our words cannot adequately express the depth of our feelings or the tragedy of this loss,” Lewis said Monday. “But we will continue to move forward in providing mobility options to this community as we embrace Ethan’s family during this tragic time.”

CATS is rolling out retention bonuses for frontline employees and recruiting bonuses for new applicants to encourage people to join the system, Lewis said.

Retention bonuses ranged from $2,000 to $3,000, Lewis said. That includes bonuses for more than 800 bus operators and mechanics and less than 300 rail system employees, he said.

The labor shortage is not unique to CATS or Charlotte. Nationwide, bus systems and other industries are grappling with labor shortages related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Bus frequency and reliability

Even after CATS overcomes pandemic-related issues, the system still faces structural issues, including long wait times between buses and reliability issues, Lewis said.

Some 18 bus routes in the system have intervals between buses of 45 minutes or more.

Increasing the frequency of bus service is a major goal for CATS, Lewis said. And the system worked on that “little by little,” he said.

But an overhaul to increase bus frequency will require a new revenue stream, Lewis said. And CATS will need more than 100 new vehicles to reduce the intervals between buses on these routes to no more than 15 or 30 minutes, he added.

Charlotte leaders are pushing for a 1-cent sales tax to fund mobility programs, part of a $13.5 billion plan, but have not set a timeline for moving that program forward.

“It’s incumbent on council to make it a priority at this point,” City Council member Braxton Winston said Monday.

Another problem with the bus system is the reliability of the buses – especially when it comes to traffic on the road.

CATS has considered a pilot program of rolling out “bus-only” lanes on Fourth Street and Central Avenue to increase bus reliability, he said.

“If we are able to provide this level of reliability to our bus system, I believe we will have created a system that will meet the mobility needs of all Charlotteans and all residents of our area for years to come” , Lewis said.

This story was originally published February 14, 2022 12:16 p.m.

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Hannah Smoot covers business in Charlotte, focusing on health care, aviation and sports business. She has been covering COVID-19 in North Carolina since March 2020. She previously covered Money and Power at the Rock Hill Herald in South Carolina and is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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