Baton Rouge Metro Councilman John Delgado is so fed up with the parish bus system that he is advocating for the state Legislature to dissolve the agency and repeal the CATS tax.
Delgado said he plans to ask his colleagues at the Sept. 11 Metro Council meeting to support a resolution urging the capital region’s legislative delegation to sponsor a bill to repeal the state law that established the Capital Area Transit System.
The resolution also will ask the Legislature to transfer all property owned by CATS to the city-parish, setting the stage so the city-parish can authorize a contract with a private company to run bus operations in the parish.
“CATS has failed the citizens and taxpayers of Baton Rouge. Every day we are reminded in the news of the reasons for that failure as we read stories of incompetence and corruption,” Delgado said in an email. “Missing money, lawsuits, and far too many unkept promises to their riders.”
He said the final straw was last week’s resignation of board member Jared Loftus, who “has been the voice of reason during his term.”
Loftus, who served as the board’s spokesman last year for the CATS tax, submitted a fiery resignation letter Thursday, saying he has lost faith in the board. He accused some of them of being unethical, inept and politically motivated.
“I am convinced now that CATS is a sinking ship,” Delgado said Monday. “We should not continue to rearrange the deck chairs. We don’t need to put more people on the board. We need to salvage what we can and get the people off the boat before it goes down.”
Delgado announced his effort to seek the change Monday morning, and his announcement garnered attention and questions from the public later in the day at a town hall meeting in Baker, to discuss CATS future with the city.
Bob Mirabito, CATS interim CEO, said all major cities with bus systems require public subsidies, so a purely private bus system would not be successful.
“A private company will not come in without a public subsidy,” Mirabito said. “New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, all of those transit systems are subsidized.”
State Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, said she doesn’t support Delgado’s plan, because she has seen no evidence that it would lead to better transit solutions.
“Why would we need to do that? What would be the advantage versus disadvantage of doing so?” Barrow said.
State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said in a telephone interview that he has a scheduled meeting with Delgado to discuss the idea and is interested in exploring the option.
“It would appear the present structure is not working so I’m all for a close look at how it could be restructured, privatized, or whatever else is in the middle to provide reasonable services for folks in our city,” Claitor said.
State legislators are not bound by a Metro Council resolution, but it could send a message if approved by the council. The state Legislature also could take action on its own.
Delgado said he’s trying to meet with as many members of the capital delegation as possible to find a potential sponsor for a bill.
Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis, who is also a CATS board member, questioned whether Delgado had talked to city-parish officials about whether they are willing or capable of taking on the responsibility of overseeing parish transit.
Repealing the CATS tax, Collins-Lewis said, “would be the death” of public transportation.
Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel also said she wouldn’t support Delgado’s resolution.
“CATS is moving forward,” Banks-Daniel said. “As a result of the tax we have a unique opportunity to build a public transit system that isn’t just the face of the poor ... but it can be for all people.”
CATS was established by the state Legislature, and the structure and makeup of the agency and its board are set by the state law. CATS also is accountable to the Metro Council, which appoints board members and has oversight over fares and routes.
At the Baker meeting, Mirabito unveiled a proposed route map showing what the system’s routes could look like early next year. The plan includes 28 routes, up from 20 in the current route structure.
The map did not include service to Zachary, which was an issue for Metro Councilman Trae Welch, who attended the meeting.
Welch said routes should not be determined just by what areas pay taxes, but rather where those people who pay taxes need to go.
He noted that Baker’s closest hospital is Lane Regional Medical Center in Zachary and pointed out that areas outside of Baton Rouge that don’t pay taxes receive CATS service.
“These routes are telling you where you’re supposed to go, instead of asking you where you need to go,” he said.
Mirabito said the maps were determined by ridership demand, but added the proposed routes aren’t final.
CATS will host public meetings Sept. 23 through Sept. 26 to collect public input about the proposed routes.
The meetings, to be held at 6 p.m., will be Sept. 23 at the Baker Council Chambers in Baker City Hall; Sept 24 at the Delmont Service Center; Sept. 25 at the BREC Administration Building on Florida Boulevard and on Sept. 26 at Bluebonnet Regional Branch Library.