The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council gave the green light to the parish bus system’s new proposed route plan which promises to provide faster and more far-reaching service.
“I do believe it’s the first step to bringing the kind of transit system that Baton Rouge needs and can be proud of,” CATS interim CEO Bob Mirabito said.
“This is the start hopefully of transforming the bus system from a very limited operation to one that will be more accessible to people and more customer-focused.”
Mirabito said the new routes will be available to riders by March.
The council voted 10-2 to approve the new route plan. It increases the system from 20 to 30 routes, but eliminates service to Zachary.
The new route model is the cornerstone of the Capital Area Transit System’s promise to tax payers to improve service.
The plan moves CATS away from its inefficient “hub and spokes” model that runs all routes through the Florida Boulevard Terminal, which means routes will be shorter in both distance and time.
The new routes also provide service to underserved areas such as O’Neal Lane and Coursey Boulevard, Metro Airport and the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired.
A couple of council members argued the routes were designed around incomplete information.
The routes were designed around a study conducted in 2010 that took into account information from surveys and public meetings.
Councilman Trae Welch said that only 60 riders turned in surveys and only two public meetings were held.
“I agree there need to be significant changes,” Welch said. “We should be making change not for the sake of change, but for the right reason and with the right data.”
Councilman John Delgado said he opposed the eight routes on the proposal that run outside of the taxing districts, and questioned why the council was approving new routes right before the agency hires its new transportation management firm.
He attempted unsuccessfully to defer the item for 120 days.
Other members of the council took issue with Welch and Delgado’s attempts to stall the new route changes.
Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis, a CATS board member defended the plan, urging her colleagues on the council to let the agency to make the progress it promised taxpayers in the April 2012 election.
“We keep beating this organization to death... now we have the opportunity to let them do what they promised,” she said. “If it needs tweaking — fine, but we need to do something to get people off the corner and to keep procrastinating doesn’t do anything to make anything better.”
Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards agreed that the Metro Council needed to stop meddling with CATS.
“We are asking for CATS to deliver on promises to tax payers, but every time they get close there appears to be a great deal more micromanagment,” Edwards said.
Welch noted that unless CATS wants to make other changes that require approval, there is no way for the Metro Council to compel CATS to come back to make further changes.
Welch and Delgado cast the sole votes against the route changes.
Council members Collins-Lewis, Edwards, Chauna Banks-Daniel, Chandler Loupe, Scott Wilson, C. Denise Marcelle, Buddy Amoroso, Joel Boé, Tara Wicker and Ryan Heck voted to approve the item.
In other business, the council received a long-awaited study that compares city-parish salaries and benefits with other market norms. The study indicated that employees are underpaid but enjoy generous benefits.
Representatives from the city-parish employees union disputed the study’s findings, noting that generous benefits are offset by lack of Social Security and higher employee contribution rates.
The council deferred until next month a discussion about the parish’s increasing flood insurance rates, related to changes Congress made last year to the National Flood Insurance Program.