It has come to this: CATS needs a 16 percent hike in fares to close a $2m. budget hole. Oh, and the utterly pointless and for show South End trolley service would be axed. Again.

But there is more. The billion-dollar plus light rail line to UNCC? That may not get built until 2019 instead of the 2013 date the public was given during the transit tax repeal campaign. UPoR transit reporter Steve Harrison explains:

Last year, CATS projected the half-cent sales tax would generate about $270 million less over the next decade than was projected in 2006. Now the transit system estimates the shortfall will grow: $349 million over the next 10 years.

CATS proposes raising its local one-way bus and Lynx Blue Line fare to $1.75 from $1.50.

The transit system last raised fares in 2008 due to high fuel prices. That increase raised the one-way fare from $1.30 to $1.50. In the summer of 2007, CATS raised its one-way local fare from $1.20 to $1.30.

CATS policy is to consider raising fares every two years so customers won’t have to face steep increases at once. But if the proposed fare increase for 2010 is approved by the Metropolitan Transit Commission, a one-way fare will have risen 46 percent since 2007.

The inflation rate during that period is under 7 percent. Yet that still does not fully capture what a total horror Charlotte’s transit plans have become. Recall that in order to make the UNCC line seem more affordable CATS kicked the $500m. streetcar line out of the official 2030 transit plan and over to the city in early 2008. The city of Charlotte does not have the money to build and operate it either, but it was a useful distraction for the Uptown crowd. They thought it would buy them time to remake reality. Not after new CATS chief Carolyn Flowers spoke truth last night.

When asked about official city plans to get CATS to help operate the streetcar Flowers dropped a bombshell.

“Clearly it won’t be CATS,” Flowers told Harrison. “We aren’t budgeting it and we aren’t planning to budget it.”

Annnddd boom.

Flowers provided one more transit tax repeal flashback. Recall that the first thing CATS and local government officials said a repeal of the transit tax would cause is an end to special transit service for the disabled and the elderly. Harrison again:

CATS is required by the federal government to provide special service who live near local bus routes. But CATS has for several years provided rides for people who live outside those areas, and is now considering cutting that service. CATS carried just under 3,400 of those rides last year.

The transit system is also proposing cutting a $1.07 million grant to Mecklenburg’s Department of Social Services for giving taxicab rides to the elderly and the disabled to jobs or the grocery store. CATS has said DSS could apply for federal grants to offset the lost funding.

That non-scheduled service is considered critical for its riders, but it’s also expensive. Some rides cost the transit system $25.

And to be clear, the reason CATS is hiking fares and cutting bus service is in order to save money for future train building, some $20m. this year and millions more in previous years. As we warned back in 2007 — and were lampooned as cavemen for doing so — the biggest threat to CATS bus service is CATS train-building dreams.

Oddly not on table for CATS right now is ending the practice of giving away Blue Line train rides for free with every bus ride, via paper transfers. The DC Metro ended this practice over a year ago when faced with a budget crunch. But that change would still only be a band-aid for CATS’ broken system.

You know what should come next: We need a new, realistic transit plan.