News & Opinion

Light Rail Etiquette: A Conversation on Manners and Public Safety

Exploring the problems and searching for solutions

The light rail stop at East/West Boulevard in South End
The light rail stop at East/West Boulevard in South End. (Photo by Davis Cuffe)

With new deals to expand Charlotte’s light rail system in the works, conversations around how to act while aboard light rail cars have come up on local social media channels, with complaints ranging from rudeness to public safety concerns. 

We visited some stops along the existing Blue Line track and asked around on Reddit’s r/Charlotte page to learn more about whether there is a lack of etiquette on Charlotte’s light rails and other public transit and how people think such issues could be addressed. 

“I’ve seen people fighting, security bother people when they don’t need to, people smoking, even some people peeing on the train,” said one anonymous Blue Line commuter. 

Other commuters described noise from other passengers as a primary disturbance on Charlotte’s light rails. 

“The number one issue is people who are playing music out loud on their phone, talking on speaker on their phone and also just speaking very loudly and saying unsavory language in a carriage which is mostly quiet,” said r/Charlotte Reddit user Shineese. 

Another r/Charlotte Redditor, Odd_System_89, shared a similar sentiment in their annoyance with other passengers being loud on Charlotte light rails. 

“The only thing people need to work on is turning off the volume on their cell phone; I don’t want to hear your conversation or whatever video you are playing; get a headset or shut up or get off the train,” said Odd_System_89. 

Other commuters described minor actions like standing in the way of others as bad etiquette. 

“I frequently witness people who post up at the doors and won’t move out of the way for people to enter/exit the train car,” said r/Charlotte Redditor IllSession3648.

“A lot of people don’t even consider that someone might be getting off the train and just stand right in front of the door,” said r/Charlotte Redditor HogarthHues.

a photo of the Gold Line running through Uptown
CATS Gold Line (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

The conversation around light rail etiquette is not contained to these individuals in the Charlotte community. A May 28 r/Charlotte Reddit post titled “Lightrail Etiquette” had 42 comments as of June 6. An earlier Charlotte NextDoor post in which a woman shared her unpleasant experience on the light rail had 179 reactions and 10 comments as of June 6.

While this is by no means a large sample size in a city of nearly 900,000 people, some Charlotte commuters feel the city should make more efforts to maintain a proper environment on Charlotte’s light rails. 

“They need to be more attentive because right now it doesn’t look like they maintain the environment of the trains that often,” said Michael, a Blue Line commuter.

Solutions offered by light rail commuters varied; one said an increase in security was necessary, while another suggested educational resources to make unwritten etiquette rules written.

As of June 6, Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) security patrols primarily check for tickets and informational printing inside the light rails, the only measures to promote etiquette inside Charlotte trains.

Outside the trains at stations around the city, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) officers regularly patrol along with CATS security. 

Read more: VIPR Team Deployed in Charlotte, Muddling Up CATS Policing Further (2022)

In March, Brent Cagle, interim CEO of CATS, recently moved to double the company’s security spending. This money partially funded two new contractors, PSS and Strategic Security Solutions, replacing the previous contractor, Allied Universal Security. The contractors staff around 100 unarmed security employees who roam onboard Charlotte’s light rail and at stations.  

Redditor Shineese shared their belief that the lack of etiquette could not be helped and reflected a greater problem. 

“I don’t think public etiquette can be improved by laws. I think it is a reflection of the lacking respect humans have for each other in today’s society.”

Some commuters shared Shineese’s sentiment. Some even shared that the lack of respect she touched on was an issue that has only grown since the COVID-19 pandemic and with population growth in the Charlotte area. 

“I think people moving to our area from other cities that don’t have a robust public transportation means there’s a number of people unfamiliar with etiquette or unspoken rules when taking the light rail. And truthfully, society as a whole has gone to shit post-COVID — people have lost their ever-loving minds,” said Redditor IllSession3648.

“Public transit in this country is famously bad for etiquette. This isn’t contained to Charlotte in the slightest,” said another commuter. 

a photo of Charlotte's Light Rail with a passenger waiting to board
CATS Blue Line stop at UNC Charlotte. (Photo by Davis Cuffe)

One commuter said the lack of robust transit culture was the reason for the etiquette problem.

“Charlotte is not a big transit city, so people who ride it here generally don’t know a thing about transit etiquette,” said r/Charlotte Redditor Automatic-Arm-532.

Charlotte’s light rail system opened in November 2007 and has seen relatively high ridership numbers, though it is still recovering from a dip due to COVID-19. In 2023, CATS reported ridership at 4 million between the months of July to September, 2.34 million less than what CATS saw in 2019 before the pandemic. 

One commuter shared that they felt etiquette should not be a priority when they feel unsafe using Charlotte’s light rails. 

“What good is train etiquette when you have to fight through a sea of homeless people to even get to the platform?” said r/Charlotte Redditor couchpro34. “Mainly, Woodlawn and South get super sketchy at the stations. We need to work on public safety at these stations before we have any need for discussion about what’s actually happening on the light rail.

“I would love to be able to use the light rail more often, but I just don’t feel comfortable or safe at any stations south of Scalybark,” continued couchpro34. 

On May 18, a person was hospitalized after a shooting at Archdale station that occurred around 11 p.m. 

And yet the safety concerns can go both ways, as over-policing is a concern for some. In November, CATS came under fire when three security guards were caught on surveillance roughing up a man with a prosthetic leg, dragging him away from a Blue Line station in Uptown before leaving him on the ground.  

Read More: CATS Blue Line Derailment Raises Questions

Security concerns are not isolated to Charlotte’s light rails. CATS buses have seen multiple high-profile incidents of violence in recent years. In February 2022, the murder of CATS bus operator Ethan Rivera in a road rage incident led a group of CATS bus and light rail operators to call on the city to implement better safety protocols. 

Another bus operator was struck by a stray bullet while working in December 2023, while in May 2023, a bus operator was fired for shooting a passenger who had pulled a gun on him. 

CATS buses were reported to carry 2.13 million passengers in the winter of 2023-24.

With the movement toward an agreement between Norfolk Southern and the city of Charlotte that would give Charlotte the rights to existing rail to build the Red Line with and momentum behind Charlotte’s new mobility plan, Charlotte’s public transportation may soon expand. 

However, commuters say public respect and etiquette on Charlotte’s light rails and the system’s overall security remains poor. In order to recover from the COVID dip and, perhaps more importantly, convince voters to support a sales tax hike that will fund a major expansion of the local transit system, the issues around public safety will have to be addressed in the eyes of their commuters. 


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