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End of the Line for Mobies

Transit Chief suspects ridership numbers were inflated

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One of Charlotte's first public transportation experiments under the new transit tax is scheduled to bite the dust in May. The Mobies, scaled down versions of Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) buses, began running a five-mile loop around SouthPark Mall in October. The idea was to shuttle shoppers and workers between the mall and shops and restaurants in the SouthPark area, offering people an alternative to driving through the already congested mall area.

In January, after complaints from SouthPark residents that no one had ever been seen riding the Mobies, Creative Loafing conducted a 15-hour study ("Have You Seen Them, The mystery of the missing Mobie people," February 13) to see if their claims were true. Sure enough, not one rider was spotted.

Despite that, ridership numbers reported by the private contractor running the Mobie system claimed that an average of 2,000 people a month were riding the four buses. But CATS chief Ron Tober didn't buy it. He says he hasn't seen too many folks riding the Mobie either.

"It's hard to believe those numbers given what we have both observed," said Tober.

The truth may never be known since there was no automated system to track ridership. Instead, the Mobie drivers were supposed to mark a sheet with a pencil each time a rider got on the bus. Whether accurate or not, according to official figures, 2,211 people rode the buses in November, 2,758 in December, 2,151 in January and 1,843 in February.

The four buses, which cost a total of $1 million, were purchased with revenue from the half-cent transit sales tax folks pay every time they purchase an item in Mecklenburg County, as did half of the $500,000 cost of running the buses. SouthPark area businesses paid the other half. There was no charge to ride.

Tober says it will take until May to shut the Mobies down because federal transit regulations require a six-week notice period for major service changes. Tober says CATS has no plans to replace the circulator service, but that a transit hub planned for the SouthPark area should be running by 2006. *

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