Amid unpaid bills and multiple bus fires this year, bus system downplays problems
BATON ROUGE - For the first time in months, the Capital Area Transit System (CATS) addressed stories that have cast the public bus system in a negative light—downplaying multiple bills that were not paid on time and multiple bus fires.
Thursday morning, another CATS bus had to be towed in after a driver reported a fire. It's the fourth time in 2022 that a CATS bus has caught fire, according to the agency.
That driver had to use a fire extinguisher on the bus. Thursday, CATS claimed there was no fire.
"A fire extinguisher was utilized out of an abundance of caution," CATS Communications Director Deanna Wallace said. "We took the bus out of circulation and took it to our mechanics to look at, which is normal procedure."
Earlier this year, a CATS bus erupted into flames at the Mall of Louisiana. The driver of that bus radioed about problems she was having but was told to keep driving.
The WBRZ Investigative Unit obtained audio of the incident between a CATS driver and dispatch on June 10, 2022, when bus 202 erupted into flames at the Mall of Louisiana.
The driver notified CATS that the engine light was illuminated, a number of other lights on the dash were lit and the bus would not go above 15 miles per hour around 2:20 p.m.
"That's normal," the dispatcher responded.
Nearly 12 minutes pass, and the driver of bus 202 noticed another problem as she was headed to Woman's Hospital.
"This bus, 202, I have real bad fumes coming out back of the bus," the driver told dispatch. "It's coming out bad. I'm asking, 'Should I go up here with this bus like this?'"
The dispatcher responded, "10-4, you might be polluting the air, but it won't harm anybody."
Wednesday, WBRZ reported that bills were paid so late that CATS employees' benefits cards were frozen. It's the second time this year that WBRZ exposed that bills were paid so late it affected employees of the bus system. In April, health insurance lapsed for employees after bills were not paid on time.
Wallace said as of Thursday, everything was up-to-date.
"There's nothing to tell," Wallace said. "Everything is fine. Our employees have access to their benefits. I can't confirm or deny whether the bills were not paid, specifically the ones you mentioned, but the bills have been paid."
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