There’s a lot of debate over Charlotte’s partly-completed light rail system. The politics are a matter for WFAE’s news department to cover, not this intrepid blogger.
But let me take a moment to recount a personal experience last week. I was whisked around a bustling mega-city by light rail—cleanly, quickly and very economically.
It was in Athens, Greece. I got there because my wife—the scholar in the family—was giving an academic paper on a new communications book she has co-written. I tagged along for a week of sight-seeing.
The Athens light rail system consists of four lines, plus an extra-charge spur that takes you directly to the airport.
A 24-hour pass costs 3 Euros. A week pass is 10 Euros. The stations and light rail cars were modern and spotless. Electronic signs at each station gave you expected departure times in minutes and seconds. Most daytime departures came within 5 minutes.
We were two couples traveling together and we never got lost all week. The signage—in Greek and western alphabets—allowed you to zip around town with reasonable clarity.
Meanwhile, at ground level, auto and truck traffic was snarled both day and night. Parking was either anarchic or non-existent. (Caveat: Athens is a city of 3.4 million metro population with 3.8 million in its region; Charlotte is closer to 700,000 in Mecklenburg county and 2.8 million in its region).
Turning back to Charlotte, I have heard planners say that our new light rail system won’t eliminate auto congestion. However, they say it will provide an alternative to those travelers who don’t want to fight the automotive battle.
After my quick visit to Athens, I think I finally understand what the rail planners are driving at (pun intended).
Have you lived in a community with vibrant rail transit? Do you think it will be transformative for Charlotte, if we look at the long “haul”—say 10 to 20 years? I’d like to read your experiences.