Axios Charlotte

Picture of the Charlotte skyline with CLT written across it.

September 19, 2022

Hello, Monday. It's Alexandria.

😎 Today's weather: Sunshine and high 80s.

🥳 Happy birthday to Axios Charlotte members Lauren Ashburn, Katrina Hutchins, Anne Lee, Susan Patterson and Julie Sossamon.

Today's Smart Brevity™ count is 945 words — a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: 🚍 Bus drivers raise safety concerns

A bus is parked in the Charlotte Area Transit Center
Over the last five years, there have been an average of about nine assaults per year within CATS vehicles, says CATS' CEO John Lewis. Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

While Renee Holzbach was driving her Charlotte Area Transit System bus four years ago, a passenger walked through the doors and punched her in the face, breaking her nose, Axios' Danielle Chemtob writes.

  • She stayed on the job until earlier this year when driver Ethan Rivera was shot and killed during a road rage incident.

“My life is more valuable than anything that I had invested into that company,” Holzbach says. “I have grandchildren, I have children, and I have a purpose. I don’t want my life to end over something that occurred while I was at work driving a bus.”

What’s happening: Drivers say their safety concerns have largely gone unaddressed for years, even before Rivera’s murder, and that’s compelling them to leave their jobs.

  • They also feel they are blamed for systemwide problems by the agency and the public.

Zoom out: Earlier last month, CATS was frequently missing hundreds of bus trips each day. The agency tweeted the number of driver absences daily and told riders to expect delays.

Go deeper: CATS bus drivers say they face constant harassment, and security measures fall short

2. Drivers union 🤝 management company

An electric CATS bus is parked at a stop
CATS needs 571 bus operators to be fully staffed, and as of September, it has 483. Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios

RATP Dev, which manages the company that employs bus operators, has reached a tentative agreement with the union that represents drivers, Charlotte Area Transit System CEO John Lewis tells Danielle.

What they’re saying: Lewis says the agreement includes “significant” wage increases and shift differentials, which means drivers will be paid more for working on holidays, weekends or late nights.

But who is RATP Dev? And why aren’t bus drivers employed by the city, like in many municipalities?

Context: Before CATS became a public entity, the buses were run by Duke Power (now Duke Energy), and employees had a union, Lewis explains.

Federal law requires employers to bargain in good faith with their employees’ unions, but North Carolina law prohibits public sector employees from collective bargaining.

  • So as a workaround, CATS drivers are employed by Transit Management of Charlotte, which is a subsidiary of RATP Dev, the company that has a contract with the city to manage the bus operations division.

Yes, but: By contrast, since rail service was started after CATS was created, rail operators are government employees, and are not represented by a union.

Read more

3. 💵 CATS caps monthly ridership costs

Illustration of a public bus made of a $100 bill and quarters
The CEO of CATS estimates that those taking one-and-a-half trips each day would hit the $88 threshold around the third week of the month. Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

CATS riders will not have to pay more than $88 per month for fares, under a new capping policy the agency is implementing this week, Danielle reported.

What’s happening: A monthly unlimited pass for the bus and light rail is $88. But CEO John Lewis tells Axios that many low-income residents can’t afford to pay that upfront, so they end up paying the $2.20 fare for each ride.

How it works: If you have the CATS-Pass app, as long as you are logged in, it will track your fares and max you out at $88.

  • Since low-income riders may not have a smartphone, Lewis says that the transit agency is working with the FCC's Lifeline program to provide free phones to riders who qualify based on income and other factors.

Read the full story

A new career is waiting for you

💼 Check out who’s hiring now.

  1. Director, conference and event services at Queens University of Charlotte.
  2. Senior finance specialist at Town of Matthews.
  3. Property assistant at Northwood Office.
  4. Retail sales associate at J.T. Posh.
  5. Extended day lead teacher-TK/K at Charlotte Latin School.
  6. Operations administrative assistant at A M King.
  7. RN clinical supervisor- Atrium Health Pineville- Progressive care (night) at Atrium Health.
  8. Property management assistant at TRC Staffing.

Want more opportunities? Check out our Job Board.

Hiring? Post a job.

4. 🚨 CMPD’s $290K bomb robot

Bomb robot with an articulating arm
CMPD has continuously upgraded two bomb disposal robots, according to a video posted on its social media. Photo courtesy of Peraton, the company behind the technology

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department recently bought a new bomb disposal robot for $290,000.

  • Rather than risk human life, the technology is deployed when the bomb squad responds to suspicious packages or possible explosives, according to a video CMPD posted.

Details: CMPD has used these special robots, equipped with 360-degree articulating arms, for “several decades,” according to city council documents.

  • It's paying for the new tech with an Urban Area Security Initiative Grant, which funds terrorist attack prevention and response.

Of note: CMPD did not respond to multiple questions about the robots. Days after Axios submitted an inquiry about them, however, CMPD posted a video about the robots on social media.

5. 🎨 Arts festival, Oktoberfest and more to do

Public artwork at the Charlotte International Arts Festival
The Charlotte International Arts Festival will feature public work from local and international artists through Oct.2. Photo: Laura Barrero/Axios

The Charlotte International Arts Festival got underway this weekend across Charlotte.

  • The annual celebration of imaginative visual and performing arts is continuing through Oct. 2 with more than 200 attractions.
  • If that's not enough, Axios' Laura Barrero has a list of other things to do in Charlotte this week.

🇪🇸 Monday: Tablao Flamenco at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center's Stage Door Theater | 7:30pm | $35+ | Details

🏃‍♀️ Tuesday: Run club at Camp North End | 6:30-8pm | Free | Details

😂 Wednesday: "Wednesday Night Live" at Levine Center for the Arts | 5-9pm | Free | Details

🍿 Thursday: "Harry Potter" outdoor movie screening at Craft Tasting Room | Sundown | Free | Details

🏁 Friday: Oktoberfest at Wooden Robot | 6pm - 12am | Free | Details

Full weekday planner

👇 Want to design spaces like this?

A walk-in closet
Photo: California Closets

Here’s how: You can join the team at California Closets as a Design Consultant and create beautiful, functional spaces.

  • Even better: It's a remote-friendly role with a flexible schedule and commission.

Learn more about being a California Closets Design Consultant.

6. 🌄 Miracle on the mountain and other speed reads

Christan Horn celebrates after his touchdown
Wide receiver Christan Horn scored a touchdown in the final seconds, and the Mountaineers won 32-28 Saturday. Photo: Cade Bettinger/App State Athletics

🏈 While hosting ESPN's College GameDay, Appalachian State won its match against Troy Saturday.

  • Quarterback Chase Brice threw a last-minute Hail Mary, Christan Horn caught the ball off a deflection and the team scored a winning touchdown. (ESPN)

🚍 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools confirmed that parents got involved in a fight on a school bus carrying Piedmont Open IB Middle School students last week. (WSOC)

🗳 Former President Trump is visiting Wilmington this week in support of U.S. Senate candidate Ted Budd. (WBTV)

🎢 Carowinds closed early Saturday night due to "unruly behavior" by minors. (WCNC)

🏈 The New York Giants beat the Panthers 19-16 on Sunday. The Panthers, now 0-2, have lost nine consecutive games dating back to 2021. (Observer)

7. 🏢 1 rendering to go: Savona Mill

Rendering of a former textile factory renovated into mid-rise apartments, retail, creative office space and a community plaza
Rendering courtesy of Portman Holdings

Portman Holdings has released a new look at 321 mid-rise apartments that'll go up at Savona Mill.

  • Construction begins this fall, and the plan is to deliver in the third quarter of 2024, Axios' Katie Peralta Soloff writes.

Zoom out: This is the first of two multifamily phases planned for the 105-year-old former textile factory in west Charlotte.

  • The mixed-use destination will feature retail, creative office space and a community plaza adjacent to the Stewart Creek Greenway.

We had a lot of reporting today on Charlotte's bus system — and we'd like to hear from readers. Whether you're a rider, bus driver or driver, how have CATS' recent challenges affected your daily life?

Have a great week.

Today's newsletter was edited by Kayla Sharpe and copy edited by Lucia Maher.