CATS tax wins in Baton Rouge, Baker, loses in Zachary

Voters in Baton Rouge and Baker approved a 10.6-mill property tax for the parish’s historically underfunded bus system Saturday, a move that CATS officials say will end many years of inadequate bus service.

“This is the first step toward making Baton Rouge the next great American City,” said Brian Marshall, CATS chief executive officer.

The tax passed in Baton Rouge 54 percent to 46 percent and in Baker 58 percent to 42 percent. It failed in Zachary, 21 percent to 79 percent.

Zachary will still receive limited service.

The passage means CATS, which has a operating budget of about $12 million, will receive an additional $17.2 million annually.

If Zachary had passed the tax, CATS would have received an additional $1.1 million in property tax revenues.

CATS pledged the following service improvements if the tax passed:

• Decreased average wait times from 75 minutes to 15 minutes.

• Eight new express and limited stop lines, serving the airport, universities, mall and other areas.

• GPS tracking on the entire fleet, with exact arrival times accessible on cell phones.

• New shelters, benches and signage at bus stops.

• Expanding service to high-demand areas and increasing routes from 19 to 37.

• Three new transfer centers operating in a grid system to replace the outdated route system which leads all buses back to Florida Boulevard.

• A foundation for Bus Rapid Transit, a system where buses get their own right-of-way-lanes.

Because property taxes are collected only once a year, CATS officials say the changes will be gradual and happen over the next couple years.