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5 minutes with… John Lewis, Chief Executive Officer of Charlotte Area Transit System

Posted by Sarah Wright on Sep 23, 2016

John_Lewis_Chief_Executive_Officer_Charlotte_Area_Transit_System-2.jpg"I enjoy the impact transit has on the overall community.  We facilitate moving people which contributes to moving goods, delivering services and building a strong economy." 

As the second largest city in the South Eastern United States, Charlotte, North Carolina is one of the fastest growing places in the US. Unsurprisingly, public transit is vital to the movement of goods and people within the city. With expansion plans underway SmartRail World Reporter, Sarah Wright takes five with the man in charge of the development of public transit in the city, CEO of Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS), John Lewis. A year into the role, with 12 years of experience in the industry behind him, Lewis discusses the challenges of bringing about change and the importance of safe, reliable and efficient transport systems. So, let’s see what drives Lewis forward in his mission to provide the community of Charlotte with an outstanding public transit system and support the cities growth…

Amtrak_Journey.pngAmtrak_Journey.pngSW: How did you get into the rail industry?

John Lewis (JL): My first job with the transit industry was at the Maryland Transit Authority (MTA).  I started in bus operations then moved over to the rail department.  In 2004, I became the director of rail operations for heavy rail at MTA.  The defining moment in my career that solidified my appreciation of rail was when I participated in a transit research program by the National Science Foundation.  We studied transit practices internationally.  Two weeks in South America cemented my love for and vision of what rail transit can be.  In Sao Paulo, Brazil, their rail system moved more than one million people a day with precision and efficiency.  It was truly something to experience!

SW: What do like most about your job?

JL: I enjoy the impact transit has on the overall community.  We facilitate moving people which contributes to moving goods, delivering services and building a strong economy.  I also like the fact that we get to measure our success by how many people we serve and how efficiently we move them.  We can see the places we are doing well and the areas where we need to grow. But, nothing beats the immediate gratification of safely moving thousands of people to places that are important to them every day.

SW: What’s the biggest challenge in your role?

JL: My biggest challenge is probably the same as every other transit industry leader: lack of funding.  Nationally, there is limited funding for transit projects and initiatives, and infrastructure investment is sluggish. We see the positive effects a robust public transit system has on a community. There is a call for different mobility options within the community that serve the public’s transit needs, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up, because we don’t have the finances to meet the demand.  I like that I can work with my staff to develop creative ideas to make available transit funds work hard for the Charlotte region though dollars become stretched very quickly.

Want to hear more about CATS efforts to build a transport system that benefits a 21st century community? Then come along to the SmartTransit Congress, October 25th - 26th 2016, in New Jersey where John Lewis will be joining us an expert speaker.

SW: What will be some of the biggest differences between rail now and in 10 years’ time?

maxresdefault-15.jpgJL: We will see increased investment in local rail service as commuting and mobility options and more build out of rail systems.  Forgive the cliché, but I believe we will go “back to the future” and see rail as a viable travel option.  In the 1800s and 1900s we saw an explosion of rail system building and activity.  In fact, streetcar lines were instrumental in the development of many neighborhoods.  More recently, we’ve seen light rail revitalize communities.  Rail integration into public transit systems will become a normal occurrence.  The question will no longer be: why should we include commuter rail, light rail or streetcar?  The question will be: how do we best build it into our system and how soon can it be done?


maxresdefault-15.jpgSW: What’s your favourite rail journey?

Amtrak_Journey.pngJL: My most memorable trip was in my younger days.  A group of friends and I traveled from Washington, D.C. to New York to watch the Maryland Terrapins play basketball at Madison Square Garden. It was a last-minute decision, so we took Amtrak.  It was such an easy, affordable trip.  We were able to relax and enjoy the trip to and from New York without the headache of driving or the expense of flying.  I would encourage anyone to give it try.

SW: John, thank you for taking the time to talk to us and we look forward to hearing more from you at SmartTransit!

Click here to enter our competition by Thursday October 6th for your chance to win a free VIP ticket to SmartTransit - and join John Lewis there!

SmartTransit 2016


5 minutes with… You? Each Friday the team here at SmartRail World will bring you a great new 5 minutes with... interview. This fun, fast-paced feature will help you get to know more about personalities across the industry, their ideas and experiences and of course their own favourite rail journey! Want to take part? Email: to find out more.

The last 5 minutes with... Dono Boestami, President Director, Jakarta MRT.

Next week's 5 minutes with... Brian Zanghi, Chief Executive Officer, Masabi.

Topics: 5 minutes with, 5minuteswith

Sarah Wright

Written by Sarah Wright

Post studying for a Masters in History at the University of Essex and taking time out to travel Europe and South East Asia, Sarah came into the world of events and marketing. She has been putting her communication skills and creativity to good use here with us since.

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