Oct 13, 2022 - News

CATS CEO resigns, but Charlotte’s public transit problems remain

CATS CEO John Lewis. Photo courtesy of the city of Charlotte

Charlotte Area Transit System CEO John Lewis is resigning.

State of play: Lewis has been CATS’ CEO since July 2015, and his last day will be Nov. 30, per city manager Marcus Jones. Assistant city manager Brent Cagle will serve as interim CEO, and the city will conduct a nationwide search for Lewis’ permanent replacement.

  • The city declined to share specifics on Lewis’ new position, which will be with another organization.
  • “Today, I made the difficult announcement to staff that I am departing CATS to pursue private sector opportunity,” Lewis said in a statement. “In my seven years with CATS, I am proud of the great work we achieved and that we showed up for the community every day. I am so thankful I had the privilege to make CATS and every employee a part of this chapter of my life, and I am excited to cheer on CATS as I continue to be a part of the Charlotte community as a transit advocate and rider.” 

Why it matters: CATS has an image problem, between driver safety, cut bus frequency and poor reliability.

  • Jones said they’re looking for someone who is able to “get things done,” has a “strong vision,” a “passion for service” and “operational experience.”

Between the lines: This isn’t the first time Cagle has been asked to triage an organization’s leadership struggles. He replaced Jerry Orr as aviation director in 2013. It started as an interim position, but he was there for eight years. The airport is the sixth busiest for passenger traffic in the world.

  • Then he took a temporary role as project and planning advisor to the city, and ultimately transitioned to assistant city manager, as the Charlotte Business Journal reported.
  • “Brent has extensive experience in change management and in large, complex organizations in highly regulated fields,” Jones said.
  • When Axios asked Jones if Cagle could become a longterm solution as CATS CEO, he said with a laugh, Cagle just became assistant city manger. He added they will look at individuals throughout the country who have visionary leadership and can take CATS to the next level.

Zoom out: CATS is also in the midst of determining how to upgrade its transit hub in Uptown, and city leaders are weighing putting it above or below ground, as Axios’ Alexandria Sands reports.

The big question: CATS needs fundamental change to address systemic issues, but will a new CEO provide that, or will it be more of the same for riders and CATS employees?

  • An ineffective transit system hurts the people it is designed to help, typically low-income riders without cars or other means of transportation.
  • Missed stops cost riders their grades and their jobs, as Axios’ Danielle Chemtob reports.

Go deeper: A timeline of the Charlotte Area Transit system’s woes

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