By REBEKAH ALLEN
Advocate staff writer
July 26, 2012
The bus system serving East Baton Rouge Parish on Tuesday was awarded $5.2 million to buy new buses through a U.S. Department of Transportation grant.
Capital Area Transit System CEO Brian Marshall said the funds to buy new buses are well timed considering the bus system is undergoing a massive overhaul and expansion, courtesy of a dedicated property tax passed in April by voters.
The dollars were allocated through the Federal Transit Authority as part of the State of Good Repair initiative to “bring the nation’s transit infrastructure into the 21st century,” according to a new release announcing the grant.
“Although we did not receive all we asked, we received enough to get us on the road to recovery,” Marshall said in a statement. “Based on our upcoming expansion, this could not have come at a better time. This money is dedicated for capital goods only and we will put it to good use.”
CATS will purchase 15 large vans and 12 buses, Marshall said. The vans hold about 20 passengers.
“It will give us an opportunity to get us the smaller vehicles that people have been asking about,” he said. CATS came in for frequent criticism before April’s tax election for not using smaller buses to lower fuel costs and emissions.
Marshall said the vans should be ready by the end of the year and the standard 35-foot buses will be ready by the end of next year.
CATS requested $23 million in its application for the grant, Marshall said. He said he had hoped to replace all of the system’s vehicles because of their high maintenance costs.
However, the addition of the new vehicles will mean the other older buses won’t be needed as frequently, and will last longer, he said.
The addition of the new buses will bump the fleet up to 84 vehicles, Marshall said.
Marshall stressed that the $5.2 million grant is one-time money that cannot be used for operational costs or to bridge a budget deficit that CATS was facing this year. The grant can only be used for capital improvements, he said.
CATS was planning to acquire new vehicles more gradually with the new tax revenue as funds became available but the federal grant will allow CATS to speed the process, Marshall said.
CATS announced earlier this year that it was facing a $2.1 million deficit, stemming from the loss of federal and state funds and the growing costs of fuel and maintenance.
After the 10.6-mill property tax was approved by voters, CATS applied for a bridge loan in the form of a revenue anticipation note to close the gap, in effect borrowing from what CATS expects to receive from the tax millage that was approved in April.
The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority was the only other bus system in the state to receive funds from the State of Good Repairs initiative.
NORTA received $896,000 to make repairs to the bus system’s facilities, according to the FTA website.