How to ride (light rail) guide: Student edition

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

There are many perks that come with being a Charlotte student, but one of the best is that LYNX light rail and CATS bus fares are covered in your student fees. You get to discover local attractions and attend events around town without worrying about paying for gas or dealing with heavy traffic. 

The Transportation Miscellaneous Service Charge provides you with fare-free access to light rail, CATS buses, the airport sprinter, and the CATS Special Transportation Service (STS). Explore Charlotte in a whole new way or ditch your driving commute entirely.

Using public transportation may be confusing at first, but follow the tips below, and you will be a pro in no time. Transit is a great way to explore all that Charlotte has to offer.

1. Safety first

Creepy guy on light rail hovering over student
Photo credit: iStock

When traveling to and from campus be sure that you are mindful of your surroundings and report suspicious behavior right away.

If you are riding transit, plan ahead and download the CATS See Say app. The app allows you to send pictures, text messages and the locations of suspicious people or activities directly to CATS Transit Police. The app disables your phone’s camera flash so photos may be taken and submitted discreetly.

The LiveSafe app is another great resource for contact emergency services, law enforcement or campus police, depending on the situation. The app also offers a SafeWalk feature, enabling you to request that a friend or family member track your movements. 

Apps are helpful but, as always, If you have an immediate emergency, call 911 right away to get help.

2. Ride with a friend or many

Photo of baseball team riding light rail
Photo credit: Kat Lawrence, University Communications

Traveling in pairs or groups is always safer and more fun than going places alone. Taking the light rail or bus with a friend is a great way to explore the city and see all that Charlotte has to offer. 

Experience the performing arts scene, grab tickets to a football game or check out one of the many delicious restaurants in uptown. From museums to special events and nightlife, there are seemingly endless possibilities for spending a day or evening with friends. 

Visit Uptown Charlotte, Axios Charlotte or Charlotte’s got a lot for more events and entertainment information.

3. Show and go

Students showing their 49er Mobile IDs
Photo credit: Joshua Thomas, Auxiliary Services

Your 49er Mobile ID or 49er Card are your boarding passes for riding light rail and CATS buses. 

If you are riding light rail, a CATS fare inspector may ask you to show your ticket. Show them your 49er ID. If you are taking a CATS bus, show the driver your 49er ID when boarding.

4. Be mindful of schedules

Blue line schedule on phone screen
Photo credit: iStock

Light rail and bus schedules are always subject to change for a number of reasons: traffic patterns, maintenance requirements or vehicles obstructing the railway. 

Plan your trip ahead of time by visiting the CATS LYNX Route and Schedule webpageThe dropdown will allow you to see weekday and weekend schedules for trains departing from UNC Charlotte and nearby stations, as well as return schedules.

Although the CATS-Pass app is used for ticketing (not needed if you are UNC Charlotte student), it may be worth downloading because it now offers real-time locations and up-to-the-minute arrival times for buses across the entire CATS system and the CityLYNX Gold Line. Real-time tracking for the LYNX Blue Line will be available on the app in the future so look for those improvements soon.

5. Connect to on-campus transit

LEAP scooters photo
Photo credit: Doug Lape, Business Services

Two light rail stations serviced by the Blue Line are located on or near UNC Charlotte’s campus: UNC Charlotte Main Station and JW Clay

Neither station offers free parking. If you plan to park and ride, consider parking at one of the stations on the Blue Line that offers free parking. If you are heading to CRI campus, you will want to get off the JW Clay station and walk or bike to your destination. 

If you take light rail to UNC Charlotte Main Station, you can hop on a free Niner Transit bus, connect with Paratransit if you are registered for the service, or rent a bike or e-scooter to get to your destination faster than walking. 

That’s all there is to riding LYNX light rail. Go forth and explore!