On a muggy Friday, a man in a worn tank top gets on a bus at 7:13 a.m. His frayed cargo pants have seen better days, but its pockets can still hide his stash of morning eye-openers — a Red Bull and a pack of Marlboros. Chris Bode will need the lift since he spends all day on his feet soldering hot metal parts at a family-owned welding shop near Uptown. Since his car broke down a couple of months ago, the bus is the 23-year-old's only transportation.
In the row facing Bode, a banker in a polo shirt checks email on his smartphone. Michael Schiavo, 35, may have a car at home, but he refuses to pay for an Uptown parking spot. Like Bode, Schiavo relies on the bus to get to and from work. While the men have different careers, they both have the same problem: Their bus route will change once the Democratic National Convention comes to Charlotte, Sept. 3-6. While some workers will have the option of driving, telecommuting from home or taking a paid vacation during the convention, people like Bode have no choice: Ride the bus and deal with the crowds, or don't get paid.
"Most Americans can't afford to not go to work because some stupid convention's coming to Charlotte," Bode said.
The Secret Service's forthcoming security report, which will outline road and parking-garage closures across the city, still has not been released, but so far, bus routes near the I-277 loop and those facing potentially blocked streets Uptown will be rerouted. While the report is due out in a matter of days (or weeks), the Secret Service made one major request from the Charlotte Area Transit System back in May: move the Charlotte Transit Center to another part of Uptown.
The center, located on Trade Street across from Time Warner Cable Arena, is the main hub for the city's public-transportation system. Ten light-rail stops and more than 500 buses, which navigate 70 routes, transport 85,000 riders a day around the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area. All buses, including express routes, which have fewer stops, go through the center.
For daily bus commuters, the familiar, teal-roofed center will not be the place to catch a ride to and from work during the DNC. The center will move 1.5 miles down to a temporary spot on South Mint and Third streets from Sept. 3-5, and reopen on Sept. 6, the last day of the convention. The Secret Service requested the relocation due to security concerns, since the current transit center site is deemed too close to Time Warner Cable Arena, the main location of the DNC.
"If I have to utilize CATS to get [to work], I will have to walk farther, so it stinks," Schiavo said.
The bus times at the temporary center will remain the same, but there will be different street directions for the routes. The names and numbers of altered routes will be marked with temporary poles. Riders, as they can do now, will be able to get on and off from these stops in addition to the temporary center. The LYNX Blue Line, a light-rail system running from I-485 at South Boulevard to the center city, will stop at Stonewall Street and have a connection at Carson Street Station to and from the temporary transportation center.
CATS employees and security will be at the temporary location during the convention to answer questions. Riders will be able to access the customer-service department in the temporary center and buy bus passes. To replace the center's eateries, including Burger King, Bojangles and the sundries shop, the temporary spot will feature food trucks. The location will also try to mimic the permanent site by having real rest rooms, not just portable toilets.
Jean Leier, manager of public and community relations for CATS, said they are prepared for any last-minute changes the upcoming Secret Service report may bring. For this reason, CATS encourages current and would-be riders to sign up for the city's Notify Me system, an email service that sends automatic updates about traffic delays and road closings in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County to subscribers. CATS also has a DNC page with times and locations for transit information fairs, where riders can talk to CATS' public relations team. Both options assume most passengers have Internet access. Those who don't are asked to call (704) 336-7433 for updates.
"We really want people to know that transit is going to be the easiest and most convenient way [to commute]," Leier said. "It's just going to be a different way our passengers are used to getting on and off."
When the estimated 35,000 people arrive in Charlotte for the DNC next month, Bode knows where he'll be — sweating over a hot rotor at Electrical Apparatus and Machine Shop on West Palmer Street, just outside of Uptown.
"Everybody else at my job drives, so unfortunately I would be the only one losing out."
UPDATE: The Secret Service, Charlotte's police department, and the State Highway Patrol released a list of security restrictions on Aug. 8, which included road closures during the DNC. The plan will not affect CATS' current transportation plan, since the Secret Service already made one major request from the Charlotte Area Transit System in May: move the Charlotte Transit Center to another part of uptown. Bus routes near the I-277 loop and those facing potentially blocked streets Uptown will be rerouted as planned.
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