The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) was recently saddled with allegations of misrepresentation and error over a newly proposed silver line transit route.
As reported earlier this month by the Charlotte Ledger, review of internal CATS documents contained both errors and misrepresentations in new route proposals and ridership analysis for the mass transit system in the Queen City.
One of the main issues involved with planning routes for the new silver line has been whether it would extend into Uptown, one of the busiest areas of the city.
CATS leadership under project manager Andy Mock initially stated that the “best bet” for a new route would be through uptown, following the Blue Line and Gold Line streetcar tracks. Later, leadership changed the projection, with a route that would travel north, avoiding uptown. This course reversal also ended with a cost savings projection that was $500 million lower than the initial figure of 1 billion.
When confronted about whether the analysis regarding costs and route change was made up, Mock disagreed, stating that leadership “followed the facts wherever they took us.” Later investigatory reporting found this to be untrue, that leadership did not in fact follow the projection models according to Ron Tober, who served as CATS CEO from 1998 to 2007.
CATS later pushed back on the initial reporting of the misrepresentations, stating that the ridership data was not made up and that neither error put forth in the report would have materially changed the outcome of CATS’ analysis.
In an emailed statement to Carolina Journal, a public relations spokesperson for the agency emphasized that they did not misrepresent any data.
“The Silver Line team is made up of members of the agency that have years of experience and have built successful transit projects before, including the LYNX Blue Line and Blue Line Extension. CATS did not misinterpret the project analysis or make up data. Any differences with the data projections between June and January is attributable to improved design definition and understanding of the alternatives. This is customary and expected at this conceptual stage of the project.”
They also stated the planning process for new routes is sophisticated and that they strive for transparency.
“It is essential to note that many elements go into planning any transit system. Ridership, access, economic development and development impacts are just a few things that are a part of the planning and development of the system. CATS has transit-oriented development goals to ensure that we create mixed-use communities near transit where people have easy access to jobs and services. The impacts that transit has on our region are very important, and CATS will continue to be open and transparent throughout the development of the Silver Line and all other projects. We know that the alignment of the Silver Line is important, and we continue to work with the community to hear and understand their needs. We know that the alignment creates both opportunities and potential impacts for the community, affecting businesses and community members. CATS takes all of this information into account when it comes to all projects and has full confidence in the staff members within the Development Division.”
CJ also reached out to Charlotte City Councilman Tariq Bokhari, who isn’t surprised by the allegations.
“The community has started to see over the last few months what I realized a few years ago: CATS was run by a habitually lying CEO, and making things up was the culture that we are now working so hard to erase,” said Bokhari. “So, while that may help explain these oddities in how these Silver Line recommendations came forth, it’s much more important to focus on the real issue here: The Silver Line isn’t going to happen, and all this is a massive waste of time and opportunity. The Charlotte region can either have a funded, roads-first transportation plan, or continue to talk about the Silver Line east of uptown. Not both. Full stop.”
Bokhari also took issue regarding the politics involved with the transit system and new route construction.
“Until we get serious about that basic truth, keep expecting more hand wringing and theatrics that amount to moving deck chairs around on the Titanic. Unfortunately, so many promises have been made on the Silver Line, many politicians have decided it’s better for them to do nothing rather than break promises they really weren’t empowered to make in the first place. You know, the exact opposite that they did to the northern towns for the Red Line,” he said.
More trouble for CATS
CATS has also been facing other issues outside of ridership analysis and cost projection for new silver line routes. Last month, the agency’s Chief of Rail Operations Deltrin Harris was placed on administrative leave with pay. His departure coincided with a derailment on the blue line and subsequent lawsuit by a former employee over that same derailment.
The agency has also faced problems with staffing, where in April, the agency was threatened by the NC Department of Transportation over a lack of staffing for its light rail operations division. NCDOT considered suspending the rail service in the event the division was not fully staffed. They were also recently hit with violations regarding their overtime policy for employees.
WFAE, WCNC, and the Charlotte Observer contributed to this article.