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CATS loses ‘possibly hundreds of dollars’ in revenue on Speed Street night

Light-rail ridership levels tripled May 28 during Food Lion Speed Street compared with an average Saturday, and some of those passengers did not pay after they were let on trains when rail platforms became overwhelmed.

Normally, there are approximately 10,000 Lynx light-rail passengers and 30,000 bus passengers on a Saturday, Charlotte Area Transit System Director Caroline Flowers said.

But during this year’s Speed Street, there were 31,797 people who rode the light-rail on the same night that police dealt with 35,000 to 60,000 youth swarming the uptown area. A 22-year-old man was killed and another suffered a gunshot wound shortly after 1 a.m. May 29, hours after the crowds dispersed.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe said the light-rail stops were overwhelmed with crowds throughout the evening and that operators allowed passengers to get on the train without checking for tickets. Monroe said one reason was that the rail platforms were not built to withstand such large crowds.

“I think we are talking possibly hundreds of dollars lost in revenue,” John Trunk, director of transit support services for CATS, said today. “Compare that against our safety concerns, and we will always fall on the side of passenger safety.”

Trunk said that at the Interstate 485 train stop at approximately 7:30 p.m. May 28 the rail platform become overwhelmed with riders and passengers who were allowed to board without having tickets checked.

Trunk said that because the rail platforms became overcrowded, there was a risk that someone could have fallen onto the tracks or become injured. CATS always tries to “preserve the safety of our riders,” he said.

Each train car can hold approximately 200 people. There were two trains, each with two cars, that passengers were allowed to board without having tickets checked.

Trunk said a one-way ticket from I-485 to uptown costs $1.75, but there are also reduced student and senior tickets and weekly and monthly rider passes. Also, anyone riding without a pass into uptown would have needed a ticket for the return rail ride.

Trunk said CATS has already begun planning for other large crowds at rail platforms and will consider providing additional buses or trains when needed in the future. Personnel will also likely be on hand during large-scale events to sell tickets in person.

At Monday night’s City Council meeting, Councilman Michael Barnes told Monroe that he has a problem with passengers riding without paying.

Barnes requested that the city’s transportation and planning committee analyze the transit patterns of the evening, including when and where people got on and off the light-rail and bus routes.

According to CATS, 35,729 passengers rode CATS buses May 28, up 19 percent from an average Saturday.

In 2010, there were 35,703 light-rail passengers and 31,081 bus passengers during Saturday night of Speed Street.

The city’s community safety committee will also consider raising the age for Charlotte’s midnight curfew, which only applies to children ages 15 and younger.

Tara Ramsey can be reached at tara.ramsey@mecktimes.com.

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