CATS meets group’s first requirement: funding
The Capital Area Transit System received an ‘A’ on its first public accountability report card for meeting expectations tied to the passage of the 10.6-mill property tax in April.
The report card was created by Together Baton Rouge, a faith-based, grass-roots organization that was heavily involved in getting the tax passed in the cities of Baker and Baton Rouge.
Together Baton Rouge established the report card to hold CATS accountable for promises the agency made ahead of the tax election. The group, which met at Mount Carmel Baptist Church on Tuesday night, plans to meet quarterly to assess CATS’ performance.
“It’s a natural fit because of the work they did on the campaign and the amount of effort they put into it,” said CATS Board President Jared Loftus. “They said, ‘We want to hold you accountable,’ and we want to be accountable.”
Tuesday was the first quarterly meeting, and the report card only required CATS to meet one deliverable in the time since the tax passed — securing funding to ensure the agency continues to operate through the rest of the year.
Brian Marshall, CATS chief executive officer, explained that CATS was facing a $2.5 million budget deficit this year because of the loss of state and federal revenues. Passage of the tax allowed the agency to take out a bridge loan so it can keep its buses rolling throughout the year, he said.
The tax revenue will not be available until the end of this year because property taxes are collected in December, which meant CATS still had to find funding to get through this year.
“It’s like you got a $100,000 job but you haven’t gotten your first pay check,” Marshall said.
The bridge loan will be repaid next year from taxes collected, Marshall said.
Marshall told the group of about 45 Together Baton Rouge members he was pleased to report that CATS is ahead of schedule on the report card.
In addition to securing funding, CATS has already taken delivery of six new buses, and has secured federal funding for 27 more vehicles that are expected to come in this year and next year.
“That puts us almost a year ahead of schedule,” Marshall said.
Marshall also touted the Touchdown Express seasonal service, which is launching next month for the third year in a row to bring LSU fans from downtown to campus on game days.
He said this is an example of capitalizing on “riders of choice,” which is part of CATS overall plan to expand service beyond riders who are forced to take the bus because they can’t afford a vehicle or can’t drive.
Dianne Hanley, a Together Baton Rouge leader, said the deliverables would get more difficult in coming meetings.
For example, the next deadline requires CATS to have purchased new buses and to have expanded route service to O’Neal Lane, Essen-Bluebonnet Boulevard, Lee Drive and Terrace-Thomas Delpit Drive areas.
Other deadlines, spread across the next few years, will ask CATS to buy more buses, provide signage and set up shelters at bus stops, implement GPS tracking for smart phones on buses and receive and publicize clean budget audits.
Marshall said he feels confident that CATS will be able to meet the deadlines.
CATS officials have said all of the promises made in promoting the tax should be met by 2014.
CATS has promised to decrease passenger wait times from 75 minutes to 15 minutes during peak hours, create eight new limited-stop express lanes, add GPS tracking for smart phones, improve signage and bus shelters at bus stops, expand the number of routes from 19 to 37 and build three new transfer centers.
The property tax will generate about $16 million annually. It was proposed for property owners in Baker, Zachary and Baton Rouge city limits, but Zachary voters rejected the tax.