Post-flood, frustrated riders could wait up to an hour for a bus
BATON ROUGE – Numerous cancellations frustrated Capital Area Transit System riders Friday as the bus system asked for patience in the system's ongoing effort to restore service with a tattered fleet and tested drivers.
Earlier this week, CATS announced it was not offering its bus service to fans attending Saturday's LSU game. Traditionally, CATS' Touchdown Express will take riders to and from the football game for a small fare. The service is discontinued for at least September, CATS said, due to fewer drivers and damaged buses following the August flood.
As routes were being canceled Friday, CATS said it is doing the best it can. The system operates with a 145 drivers on staff. To function at full capacity, it needs 109 drivers each day. Forty-three are displaced by recent flooding, the bus system said. CATS has said it has been difficult to schedule drivers since many are dealing with the loss of homes, dealing with FEMA and working to find new places to live.
“We are working to accommodate their schedules as well as possible while they manage the rebuilding of their homes,” a CATS spokesperson said in an email following a WBRZ Investigative Unit request for data about the bus company's post-flood operations.
If flood-impacted drivers are not working at all, CATS only has 102 drivers – seven fewer than it needs to run routes on time and as scheduled. Frequent cancellations are due to available fleet and operators, CATS said, referencing how the flood has taxed the staff.
While no buses were destroyed in flood water, CATS buses used to rescue people had to drive through high water, damaging some components of the vehicles. Damages have been described as mechanical. It is not immediately clear how many buses are out of service.
But, the buses themselves have been questioned long before the flood event. In April, following a bus crash where a bus hit a house, the system said several buses on the street are between 15 and 17 years old. Then, representatives were excited about twelve new buses the system hoped to have on the road by December.
Following the crash, bus union leaders called for a strategy to replace the aging fleet and promised stewardship as CATS moved toward better service.
Though CATS is funded by a four-year-old, controversial 10.6 mill property tax, the union also said city and state leaders should raise more revenue for the bus system through fees on some purchases and parking tickets. In June, the Amalgamated Transit Union argued CATS needs additional revenue to function properly.
A check of CATS' financial documents shows it had a $27.7 million budget in 2015. Of that, $17.3 million was from the 2012 property tax. Ridership accounted for about $1.6 million.
A ride on a CATS bus costs $1.75, transfers are another quarter.
Riders are left waiting double time for canceled buses.
“Canceling a trip does not mean an entire route is canceled for the day; it simply means that instead of having a bus (come) every thirty minutes, there may be one every sixty minutes,” the bus system said in a question posed by WBRZ about the number of canceled buses each day.
Interim CEO Bill Deville said the cancellations appeared on the app Friday because of a downtown event. Routes were actually rerouted, he said.
"We understand the frustration of customers when any trip is canceled, and we share that frustration. We have to remember that this is an extraordinary time when the community as a whole is being stretched to capacity, and we are working to provide the best and most comprehensive service possible to our customers," Deville added.
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