By Cody Worsham
I’ve been in Baton Rouge for a quarter century, and until Monday, my only experience with CATS was a near-death one.
I was at the light on Chimes Street at Highland a couple years back when an obviously late bus ignored a red light and nearly side-swiped me into an early grave. Luckily for the bus and myself, I survived a terrible car accident at age 14 and have since been the most paranoid of commuters, and that paranoia allowed me to see the bus before a fatal T-boning.
Add some bad press in recent years involving CATS corruption to that memory, and needless to say, my impression of the city’s public transportation has never been positive.
However, new leadership and a new route schedule have CATS looking to gain back its city’s confidence. On Monday, I gave CATS a second chance, and I’m glad I did.
What began as a necessity turned into a pleasant experience. I spent Sunday night hauling a rented 15-passenger van filled with members of the Red Storm 7th Grade basketball team – and its newly-claimed first place trophy – back from Dallas. The eight-hour drive was made worse by weather and time, putting me in bed at 3:30 a.m. Monday morning.
Four hours later, I was dropping off the rental vehicle at the Enterprise on Jefferson near Corporate. My personal vehicle, meanwhile, was miles away at the Team Sportsplex on Perkins near Kenilworth, where I’d left it over the weekend. I needed a ride to work, and fortunately for me, CATS was there to provide it.
I grabbed the No. 18 bus spanning from Cortana to LSU, which picked me up on the corner of Corporate and Jefferson. A friendly driver welcomed me aboard and helped me pay the fare, a $4 day pass.
From there, she quickly hauled me directly to the corner of Nicholson and Lee and dropped me off steps from the DIG offices, but while the ride was short and put me at work well ahead of schedule, I was oddly sad to see it end.
Along the way, the driver and I had bonded over the previous night’s weather and its toll on those driving in it. She had informed me that, as far as she could recall, only twice in her eight years driving for CATS had she been told to stay home – after Gustav, when the city lost power for days, and this winter, when Baton Rouge’s roads froze over.
At College and Perkins, we had picked up another passenger, a regular CATS rider who had quickly begun his customary banter with the driver. Before long, we were all talking about the city, him bragging about keeping the dance floor full at Live After Five the Friday before and me bragging on Red Storm’s title in Dallas. By the time I hopped off, I felt more engaged with the city than I’d ever felt on any morning commute.
Simple as the morning ride was, the lunch trip to actually pick up my SUV was more complex, and I was skeptical it’d go over well, but the new routes – and CATS’ digital offerings – made it simple. I hopped on the inbound No. 18 bus, which arrived right when the RouteShout app I’d just downloaded told me it would. It was five minutes behind schedule, but because I’d downloaded the app, I wasn’t worried about the wait.
RouteShout also let me know to hop off at Perkins and College, where the outbound Perkins bus grabbed me 15 minutes after disembarking No. 18. It was a smooth ride, literally and figuratively.
Transit completed, I started up my Explorer and headed home to feed my dog before returning to work. As I finished lunch and grabbed my wallet to leave home, I noticed the day pass still sticking out, tempting me to take another trip on No. 18.
I passed, opting instead for the convenience of driving on my own schedule. But it wasn’t an easy decision, and next time, I may choose differently.
Progress, after all, comes one stop at a time.