By Leslie D. Rose
It’s an A- for the Capital Area Transit System (CATS) per Together Baton Rouge’s (TBR) Accountability Night that yielded about 30 attendees last month.
The overall grade, which is significantly up from the C- it received in Nov. 2012, came as a result of a citizen caucus held within the meeting.
The report card shows CATS standings beginning April 21, 2012 and follows the benchmarks through its goals to Aug. 18. Of the most remarkable and well-received changes – all receiving A’s – are the improvement of route efficiency, new traditional service and new express and limited stop services.
Improving Route Efficiency: A
When metrics were first introduced in the route efficiency benchmark, there was only one central hub, located at CATS Main Terminal. Now there are four additional operating hubs at Town Square, Cortana Mall, Mall of Louisiana and Earl K. Long.
New Express & Limited Stop Service: A
Attendees appeared the most surprised, yet impressed by the notion that there is now an airport express route. Mirabito said the issue CATS now faces with the express is making patrons aware and hoping that they will utilize it. Additional express/limited routes are the O’Neal Park & Ride, Baker/Southern Limited, Florida Limited and Mall of Louisiana Express.
Reduction of Trip Times: A-
In April 2012, a trip from the Sherwood Forest/Coursey Blvds. area to downtown Baton Rouge took approximately two hours and 15 minutes. The change goal is listed as one hour shorter for the route, but as of the accountability meeting, that trip has gotten down to an average of 47 minutes, exceeding its goal.
Improvement of On-Time Departures: B+
CATS met its goal of having 75 percent of the departures leave on time for 22 of 30 routes. Mirabito defines on-time arrival as being from one minute early to 10 minutes late, which includes travel time through heavy traffic and patron boarding.
Improved Arrival/Departure Info & Route Planning Systems: B-
Attendees acknowledge the availability of a tracking system, but when asked who had been able to get it to function properly, only three people raised their hands – Mirabito was one of them. He admits that there were some vending issues with the tracking system and ensured attendees that the function will be in better working condition in the near future.
Better Shelters, Stops and Signage: N/A
TBR reps advised attendees that while the transit system has made significant strides since their first grading through the accountability initiative, that issue would have to be tabled to allow CATS time to acquire proper funding, permits, environment engineering and possible community support.
Mirabito said he was pleased with the overall grade given by the group, even calling it generous. Having been on the job for just one year and having no prior transit experience, he said he intends to continue to work towards building a robust transit system for the Baton Rouge area.
Show Me the Money
Unfortunately without proper funding, fleet age may become a hindrance in the overall upgrading of the system.
The average cost of a new bus is $500,000.
In 2013 the fleet experienced 503 breakdowns. This year there were 197 in July alone. Mirabito said that about seven buses break down daily citing the main issue for CATS breakdowns is that the fleet has 12 buses built in 1997 that have more than 750,000 miles on them and the average lifespan of a bus is only 12 years. He said he estimates that within the next few years 45 buses will need to be retired.
CATS has applied for a federal grant to purchase 45 new buses.
TBR has guaranteed citizens that they will continue to hold CATS accountable for any promises made. The shelter, stops and signage metric will be addressed at the next accountability meeting which will be held in 2015.