Riding the last mile: A car-free trip to uptown

The 18 months since the pandemic started has been a great time to rethink personal priorities.

In the past couple of months, we decided to sell our second car and focus on alternative transportation modes to get to and from our home. Living in NoDa, so close to uptown and transportation options such as bus lines and the light rail, this seemed like an easy change to implement.

So this week, I decided to test the workability of this decision. Mid-day, mid-week, I decided to venture to uptown Charlotte and back home again using non-automobile transportation options. Here’s how that went.

First, I walked the five minutes to the light rail station at 36th Street. Before stepping onto the platform, I clicked on the Charlotte Area Transportation System (CATS) app and opened a previously purchased ticket ($2.20 one way). To avoid fines, one is supposed to buy and open a CATS ticket before stepping onto the light rail platform. As luck would have it, I had followed the rules.

Immediately upon entering the light rail car, I encountered three CATS security officers in the process of engaging a passenger who was riding without a ticket. In the end, that passenger received a $50 ticket, an expensive reminder that tickets are in fact required to ride all Charlotte public transportation options.

After a short ride through the Mill District, I exited the train at 9th Street in uptown and began the second leg of my journey. Having previously researched the stations containing Charlotte Joy Rides e-bikes, I walked the two blocks to the closest docking station at 9th and Brevard. We had done a test ride of the Joy Rides e-bike system the previous weekend ($5 for 30 minutes). The ride was thoroughly enjoyable and the sign-up was simple.

I assumed that the same would be true with this ride. However, when I attempted to use my credit card to access the e-bike, both cards I was carrying were denied. When I attempted to use my app to unlock the bike, the app required a login that I didn’t have at the time. Finally, I spoke with customer service about my issues. While they were as pleasant and helpful as possible, they advised that the only way to use the app is to have logged in and purchased a pass before riding. As for the decline of the credit cards, they mentioned that a few of their stations had encountered technical problems accepting credit cards. The agent did, however, direct me to the next nearest station.

Too late, I remembered that there is currently no Joy Rides docking station near NoDa, so that plan fell by the wayside. Glancing around, I noticed a nearby Spin electric scooter. Since I had brought my helmet for the e-bike ride, the scooter option seemed like the perfect pivot. I engaged the scooter with my Spin app, and headed north on Davidson Street toward home ($1 to unlock and 15 cents-40 cents per minute).

The Spin scooter ride toward NoDa was enjoyable, easy, and felt relatively safe with the lighter traffic due to COVID. However, about halfway home, the scooter dial began to beep. Pulling over to a safe spot, I noticed that the electric charge indicator on the scooter was on the final dot. With fingers crossed, I continued riding north on Davidson. After crossing under the Matheson bridge, I felt confident I would reach my destination under electric power.

I turned left at 36th Street and headed toward our home on the far side of the tracks from the center of NoDa. Having reached Benard Avenue, I decided to take one final lap around the block before dropping the scooter off at the corner.

Then, you guessed it, I ran out of charge. Rather than leaving the scooter at an inconvenient spot for the Spin employees to pick up, I walked the vehicle back to 36th street, ended the ride on my app, and walked the half-block home.

In the end, I was able to navigate alternative transportation to uptown and back. With a bit more preparation and observation on my part, the journey would have been simple, inexpensive, and enjoyable.

For any neighbors interested in having an e-bike docking station in the heart of NoDa, I’d recommend contacting Charlotte Joy Rides through their website at charlottejoyrides.com.