Inside Report for Feb. 5, 2013

CATS staff defending their work

In recent weeks, the staff of the Capital Area Transit System has been putting the word out about the good things happening at the often-criticized bus agency.

And they’re stressing that it’s the current managers who made those changes possible.

The CATS staff may be responding to pressure and hoping to gain public support, as CATS board members continue to mull a TMG Consulting report that recommended the agency replace top-level managers with contracted experts from a qualified transportation firm.

Brian Marshall, CATS chief executive officer since 2008, has said he isn’t fearful of losing his job because he’s confident his body of work proves he deserves to stay.

Over the past year, Marshall has stayed in the background, allowing CATS Chairman Jared Loftus and the board to handle the public affairs of the agency as it planned, campaigned for and subsequently celebrated the passage of a 10.6-mill property tax that officials say will transform the city’s bus service.

In the past month, Marshall and his staff have found their voices and are touting their accomplishments across several venues.

The staff presented a lengthy PowerPoint presentation in January to the CATS board and to the public at the same meeting TMG made its controversial management recommendations.

The staff presentation highlighted service improvements such as:

  • Improved on-time performance. CATS previously reported 25 percent of its buses running on time, but now buses are between 75 percent and 79 percent on time.
  • Decreased customer complaints through customer service training. In 2010, there were 331 customer complaints, and in 2012 there were only 54.
  • Increased outreach to “choice riders” — riders who have the option of driving — by providing targeted event-driven routes like the Touchdown Express for LSU football games and Trolley Rouge for visitors.

CATS was recently featured on “CBS this Morning” in January in a national news piece that explored whether video surveillance on buses infringes on riders’ right to privacy.

CATS was featured because it has both audio and video recording on its buses, and Marshall was interviewed and defended the technology, saying it has improved safety and customer service.

After the segment, titled “Big Brother? Bus Surveillance spurs privacy debate,” aired, CATS officials sent out a news release to the media touting their national recognition.

“CEO Brian Marshall was also featured in the piece for his willingness and ability to be innovative,” reads the news release, which did not include a link to the video. “CATS is becoming a technological trailblazer in the national transit community. The fact that CBS decided to feature CATS in this story is yet another example that we are moving in the right direction.”

Most recently, Marshall and his staff held a news conference, without board members, to unveil an important GPS service to be installed on CATS buses.

At the news conference, Marshall again noted CATS improvements in areas of on-time performance and complaints.

His staff also distributed glossy informational pages touting CATS achievements such as new buses and reduced wait times.

At the bottom of the page, CATS cited the very TMG report that condemned transit agency’s administration: “According to the TMG report, CATS boasts an administration to operations cost of 8% compared to the national rate of 19.5. At CATS, efficiency is key.”

Rebekah Allen covers East Baton Rouge city-parish government. Follow her on Twitter @
rebekahallen or email her at rallen@theadvocate.com.