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Charlotte Area Transit System Case Study

Innovations in mobility for a rapidly growing city





more tickets sold than expected


tickets sold



The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) is a leader in public transportation, supporting the growing transit needs of Charlotte’s rapidly increasing population for over ten years with a light rail solution. At the time of launch, riders were accustomed to purchasing paper tickets from vending machines (TVMs), which required users to travel to specific locations and were susceptible to long lines at peak hours. Ten years and 48 million rides later, despite continued innovation in transit, CATS riders were still paying for rides in the same way.

In order to provide a modern payment solution to its riders and ease the burden of dwell time, CATS launched a mobile ticketing pilot known as the CATS Pass mobile app, powered by Passport. The app enables light rail riders to easily buy their fares through their mobile devices, and allows CATS to maintain its standing as a leader in public transit through innovative pilot opportunities with with transportation network companies (TNCs) to address first/last mile challenges.


“Our goal with the CATS Pass mobile app is to make riding transit more convenient through the use of technology and this new app allows customers to purchase passes anytime, anywhere with their smartphone. It also allows CATS to ensure all of its mobility options and technological innovations are accessible to all of our customers.”  -John Lewis, CATS CEO

With Passport

CATS light rail riders are able to purchase tickets anywhere, at anytime, from the convenience of their smartphones, diminishing dwell time at TVMs, costs of printed fare media, and less riders missing their departing train. This mobile solution has also enabled CATS to begin piloting a collaboration with a TNC to extend transit service without additional infrastructure and to serve riders in the last mile of their trips.

Meeting customers where they are

Providing new technology to today’s tech savvy customer is critical to CATS’ goal of making public transit simple and convenient to ride. Riders can now easily purchase fares on the go– anywhere, anytime, and CATS has multiple ways for customers to purchase tickets, reducing fare evasion issues and helping drive revenues.

Crushing utilization goals

CATS expected the CATS Pass mobile app to be a convenient option for riders, but didn’t foresee its quick success and popularity. Utilization is at 60% after just 6 months, and is still on the rise. It is especially popular with the young millennial population that resides along the light rail line in the South End neighborhood of Charlotte and commutes into the city, and will continue to grow with the light rail extension to the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

Serving the unbanked

CATS light rail riders without a bank account can still take advantage of the ease and convenience of paying with the app. Riders simply load the app’s digital wallet with cash at the transportation center and reload when they run out of funds, alleviating the need to visit a TVM for each ride.

Completing the trip

A test partnership with a TNC gives commuters a unique first and last-mile solution. Monthly CATS Pass holders are automatically enrolled into the TNC’s system. When riders arrive at a designated light rail station, they are eligible for a subsidized TNC ride within a certain radius to help them arrive at their final destination. Ride availability in those areas in automatically increased by the TNC. Overall, the agency is able to improve its passengers’ experience, attract new riders, reduce traffic congestion and do it without adding costly infrastructure such as new buses and routes.

Spreading the word

CATS is a marketing machine. Ads at train stations, educational sessions, PR and social media promotion are just a taste of how the agency has promoted the CATS Pass. CATS also created a digital banner in their TVMs to inform riders of a new way to pay, and hired promoters to encourage people to use the app.

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