CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – Charlotte Area Transit System officials say they’re making a plan just in case bus drivers decide to strike.

That strike could come in the next 30 days if the union and CATS management leaders can’t agree on a new contract.

Steel, metal, air, rail, and transit, also known as SMART union leaders, have been meeting with RATPDev, the management company over CATS drivers, since last summer to come up with a new union contract or collective bargaining agreement. Charlotte area transit system drivers overwhelmingly voted in favor of a strike, clearing the way for them to hit the picket line within a month.

A union member says safety, security, and wages are the main sticking points. If both sides can’t agree in the next 30 days, we might see fewer buses running.

“What we gon’ do? Is anybody going to provide transportation for us?” CATS rider Kim Clark asked. “I just left a doctor’s appointment, and I have another one soon.”

Data from CATS ridership reports show in October 2018; CATS provided more than 1.1 million individual rides. The latest data from October 2022 shows rides decreased to 488,220. CATS leaders also decreased routes from 21 in October 2018 to 16 in October 2022.

Post-pandemic problems plague the transit industry as more people leave for other jobs. Last year, CATS leaders changed bus schedules to increase reliability, but some riders say issues with late or no-show buses continue.

Meg Finch from Sustain Charlotte says public transportation should remain a priority for a city of this size.

“There’s a lot going on behind the scenes, and we want to see that end result of fast, frequent, reliable service,” Finch said. “We also know to get that excellent service; we need drivers, operators, and mechanics who are supported and can take care of their families.”

Finch says a strike could impact more than transportation.

“Public transportation gets a lot of people to jobs, it gets people to medical appointments, it gets people to education community college or in some case high school,” Finch said. “So public transportation is vital to keep our residents connected to the community.”

She says a strike and public transportation standstill could cause a chain reaction.

“If people who ride the bus, which is a lot of service workers and healthcare workers, if they can’t get to their jobs, then a lot of those workplaces would see temporary closures,” Finch said.

North Carolina law requires a 30-day cooling-off period before union workers can officially strike.

Both sides will continue to come to the table, hoping to get a deal done before going to the extreme of a strike. Union members say operators have gone on strike at least twice in the past.