The light rail at its terminal on UNC Charlotte’s campus across from Wallis Hall. Photo by Jordan Gorski.

The whole university has been waiting for it.

March 16 could mark a transformational day for UNC Charlotte. Next month, students will take the first of many rides on the light rail extension and begin experiencing a Charlotte full of opportunities such as sports, food, the Arts, cultural experiences and festivals. Unlimited rides to Uptown, NoDa and other parts of Charlotte, outside of the university area, could open up a whole new city for students.

“We’re all, as a university, still a little excited and curious to see how the campus community takes light rail and uses light rail,” said Jared Moon, a member of the Light Rail Coordinating Committee. “I think a lot of our prospective students come from places that aren’t Charlotte and don’t realize what you can connect to in a city this size and it’s at your fingertips, it really is.”

The opening day is also the first round of the NCAA basketball championship games at the Spectrum Center, located in walking distance to the Arena Station.

Its been almost five years since Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) signed a deal with the government to pay for half of the $1.16 billion it would cost to extend the LYNX Blue Line. With the completion, the light rail will now have a total of 26 stations, including its terminal at UNC Charlotte and a stop at the university’s Center City campus.

After negotiating with CATS, the university was able to make a deal that provides students an all-access pass for $25 a semester that will be paid as part of tuition. Students will only pay $10 for Spring 2018. The pass gives students unlimited rides on light rail, trolleys and majority of CATS transit including local and express buses. Faculty and staff can buy a pass for $75 a year. For non-students, the cost for a one-way is $2.20, a round-trip is $4.40 and an unlimited day pass is $6.

In a 22 minute ride, passengers will be able to travel from main campus to 9th Street, only a short walk from UNC Charlotte’s Center City campus.

The extension added 11 new stations to the light rail, now 26 stations total. 107 trains will arrive on campus each day, with one arriving every 7.5 minutes during peak hours, every 15 minutes during non-peak hours, every 20 minutes on weekends and every 30 minutes at late night. CATS buses will be available to ride at most stops and Niner Transit is adding new buses in April to ensure a bus is available at the station every eight minutes.

With the new 49er ID cards that were distributed to students last year, riders will be able to tap their cards at contactless readers that will be installed later this year. Until then, riders will present them to conductors when asked.

As the opening day inches closer, some students have voiced concerns with safety, considering the light rail will be attracting more people to campus. In response, the UNC Charlotte’s Police and Public Safety Department added more police officers so there could be constant patrol at the station, especially during peak and night hours. In case of an emergency, the department’s building is right next to the station and there are blue light phones surrounding the area. However, those working on the light rail don’t believe crime will be a large issue.

“If somebody is coming to campus to steal or to cause harm, they’re probably not taking the light rail train to and from, where there’s cameras everywhere, where they’re kind of stuck,” said Claire Apaliski, the project manager on the UNC Charlotte Light Rail Coordinating Committee.

CATS also takes their own safety measures at stations by installing security cameras and having security officers on trains.

Alexandria Sands is the Niner Times' community editor. She is a senior majoring in Communication Studies with a double minor in Journalism and English. Her work has been published in Charlotte magazine, The Charlotte Business Journal, Creative Loafing, The Gaston Gazette, The Shelby Star and The State Port Pilot. When she's not in the newsroom, you can catch her reading a book at her home in Oak Island. Reach her at or @alexsands_.