CATS unveiling new routes

Parish bus officials have wrapped up long-awaited plans to provide faster and expanded bus service, and are taking their plans to the public.

On Tuesday, Capital Area Transit System officials hosted the second of six community meetings to present the proposed route and service changes to the public.

The meetings, to date, have been sparsely attended.

Interim CEO Bob Mirabito gave examples of how travel times will be shortened once routes are implemented early next year.

But Mirabito, who has been leading CATS for only three months, is letting the public know that some promises made by the previous administration will not come to fruition.

Some of the major route changes include expanding from 20 to 28 routes, cutting service to Zachary, expanding service to O’Neal Lane and Coursey Boulevard, and creating service to Metro Airport.

Express and limited stop routes will service O’Neal Lane to downtown, the airport to downtown, the Mall of Louisiana to downtown, Baker to Southern University to downtown, and across Florida Boulevard.

While service is increasing and being streamlined, there are fewer routes and fewer express routes than originally promised in the tax plan presented to voters in April 2012.

CATS also promised last year that it would drop wait times to 15 minutes during peak hours.

Only three routes are scheduled to have 15 minute wait times during peak hours. Seven will have 30 minutes wait times.

However, the time spent traveling on a bus will be reduced, Mirabito said.

For example, a rider who wants to get from Corporate Boulevard to downtown will see what has been a two-hour trip cut to 45 minutes when the new system is put in place.

Similarly, the hour and 45 minutes it takes now to get from the Glen Oaks area to the Mall of Louisiana will take only 53 minutes next year.

And the three hours to get from the former Earl K. Long Medical Center to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, will be slashed to 45 minutes under the new plan.

The route changes hinge on approval by the Metro Council in October.

Mirabito said the plan could be tweaked based on feedback from customers who attend the meetings.

“This is the beginning, not the end,” Mirabito said. “Once we put the system in place it will continue to be fine tuned.”

Anticipating some resistance to the decision to eliminate service to Zachary, Mirabito said he’s keeping an open mind.

Zachary residents voted against the 10.6-mill property tax last year, while Baker and Baton Rouge residents approved it.

An average of only 13 people ride the bus to or from Zachary a day, Mirabito said.

Baker will receive a boost in service with the addition of a route that will circulate Baker and the express service to downtown.

Aside from Zachary, the one other route that was partially terminated was the one for part of the Goodwood area because there was no ridership for that portion.

Tuesday’s meeting at the Delmont Service Center on Riley Street, was attended by about a dozen people, the majority of whom appeared to be CATS staffers.

Mirabito estimated about six people attended the previous meeting in Baker.

Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said she was deeply concerned that CATS hadn’t made more of an effort to reach riders about the pending changes. CATS officials said they ran public notices in the local media and put signs on their buses, but Edwards said anything short of placing a flier in the hands of their riders was inadequate.

She said after the meeting that CATS will need to justify in detail to voters why it is not delivering all the services promised in the tax election. She said the process to inform them about service cuts should have started earlier.

While encouraged by the improvements, Edwards said she was skeptical it would be enough to draw riders who aren’t already wholly reliant on the bus system for transportation.

Bus rider Jeremy Nettles, 18, said he was pleased by the changes, but had hoped CATS would have extended its evening hours.

“I’m a Southern University student, and they’re adding things like direct service from there to the mall,” he said. “I was expecting more, but they gave a lot.”

The schedule for the remainder of the meetings is 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at BREC Headquarters, 6201 Florida Blvd.; Thursday at Bluebonnet Library, 9200 Bluebonnet Blvd. and Oct. 1 at the Forest Community Park at South Harrell’s Ferry Road.

The final meeting is set for 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 2 at the Downtown Development District, 247 Florida St.