With the cost of a gallon of gasoline approaching $4, it is no wonder that Charlotte's light rail system is looking like a good alternative to many commuters. In fact, the Lynx Blue Line might be a little too popular.
Officials with the Charlotte Area Transportation System reported recently that the Blue Line's 1,120-space parking deck at the Interstate 485/South Boulevard station is filling up every day, and drivers are circling for spots. The same thing is happening at the next station to the north -- Sharon Road West -- with its 188 spaces also filling up.
The other five park-and-ride lots still have plenty of room. But it is clear that more people are using light rail.
Transit ridership now routinely tops the 9,100 riders a day CATS officials projected in late November, when the Lynx first opened. While ridership did not increase overnight, it has steadily risen in recent months as the cost of gas has skyrocketed.
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While CATS is not eager to spend the millions of dollars it would take to build a second parking deck at the I-485/South Boulevard site, it is pleased with the rising popularity of light transit in the city. The Lynx always has drawn big crowds for special events uptown, but the numbers of cars now in the park-and-ride lots indicates more people are making light rail travel part of their routine.
It would be a mistake to think of this as strictly a Charlotte phenomenon. York County residents are paying more for their gas, too, and county leaders need to be thinking about how to bring light rail across the state line.
Ultimately, we hope to see an integrated mass transit system that serves the whole region. For now, though, crowded park-and-ride lots are a good sign that light rail is catching on in our backyard.