WEB EXTRA: Bus rider moves so he won't have to ride CATS anymore
BATON ROUGE – A former bus rider said Thursday he became so frustrated with spotty service on the taxpayer funded CATS, he moved.
In the inner circles of the often-criticized management team of Capital Area Transit System leaders, Frank Lanasa might be widely disliked. Routinely, Lanasa sends emails to CATS executives and members of the Baton Rouge Metro Council showing canceled routes and his thoughts – often negative, yet he argues truthful – on the system's operations.
Most recently, Lanasa shared an image of eleven different cancellations Thursday morning. Later in the afternoon, CATS released a statement from the board-backed permanent CEO Bill Deville. While it did not highlight specific cancelations, Deville's statement reported CATS "certainly are watching the level of canceled trips." A few weeks ago, CATS said an unusual number of bus cancellations were because of service interruptions post-flood. In early September, CATS said it was operating with seven fewer drivers than needed because employees were dealing with housing issues following the flood.
But, Lanasa insists CATS has been plagued with problems for years – ever since he moved to Baton Rouge and began riding the bus six years ago. Lanasa even attempted to join the governing body of the bus system two years ago but was not selected when the metro council appointed new members.
“CATS management has been blaming the 'Great Flood,' but it's been going on for years,” Lanasa told WBRZ. “If a driver calls in sick or a bus breaks down, CATS just cancels the route and leaves the passengers stranded.”
CATS is upgrading some of its buses. The fleet is routinely subjected to reticule for its age. Several buses are between 15 and 17 years old. Newer models could be on the streets by December.
But, it's no help for people who rely on the buses right now. In response to WBRZ questions about riders feeling neglected, CATS said in September, if a rider's bus was canceled, the rider should just wait for the next one – sometimes up to an hour later.
A spokesperson said just because the scheduled bus doesn't come when it should, one will eventually.
“(A canceled route) simply means that instead of having a bus (come) every thirty minutes, there may be one every sixty minutes,” CATS said a few weeks ago.
Lanasa said he got tired of that philosophy, so he searched for a way to stop relying on the bus.
“I moved to Baton Rouge about six years ago,” he said. “I loved going downtown. After years of taking hours to ride a bus about nine miles, I had a chance to move downtown so I took it.”
Now, Lanasa said, he tries to avoid the bus. “I ride the bus as little as possible,” he said. Though, he continued, without a car, it's inevitable.
“If I have to make a trip… I have to pack a lunch because I'm never sure if a bus will show up,” Lanasa said.
Going broke and relying on local government subsidies, CATS was able to sway voters on passing a 10.6 mill property tax four years ago. 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. Even though its funded through the tax, a public transit union has told city leaders additional money is needed. It suggested more money should be raised through fees on some purchases and parking tickets.
After this story posted, CATS sent a statement from Deville.
"CATS makes 1,226 trips. While we are concerned about the number of reported cancelations, these are only a small percent of our overall trip schedule for the day. (Wednesday 9/28), for example, cancellations totalled around 4 percent. Our solution for this problem is twofold — increasing the number of operators available to drive and improving our fleet."
Again, CATS called attention to the flood: "While CATS played a critical role in flood response, evacuating around 7,000 residents, our team saw losses as well. Roughly 30 percent of our bus operators and nearly a dozen of our administrative staff members suffered major loss in the flood. We are allowing time in their work schedules to deal with the important, and time consuming, tasks of rebuilding, including meeting with contractors and inspectors, locating and moving to new housing and transitioning their children to new schools or day cares."
The statement also pointed out CATS is trying to better align resources. It canceled a trolley service through the Garden District area of Baton Rouge and its LSU game day shuttle for the 2016 football season.
Read the entire statement HERE.
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