CATS to change routes, waive fares first week

Advocate staff file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- A Capital Area Transit System (CATS) bus takes on riders at the main bus terminal on Florida Boulevard recently. Show caption
Advocate staff file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- A Capital Area Transit System (CATS) bus takes on riders at the main bus terminal on Florida Boulevard recently.

The parish bus system is waiving fees for riders for a week at the end of March as it unveils a different route structure for its riders.

Riders can take a Capital Area Transit System bus for free from March 30 until April 5.

The move, approved by the CATS board Tuesday evening, is intended to help ease some of the expected confusion during the transition, as well as create an incentive for new riders to try out the expanded system.

“It’s not just a simple expansion with added routes,” CATS CEO Bob Mirabito said. “Existing routes are going to change.”

CATS is expected to lose about $25,000 in revenue for the week.

The changes are expected to be dramatic. There will 10 new routes, bringing the number of routes to 30, and service will be eliminated in Zachary, whose voters rejected the property tax in 2012 that is funding the system’s expansion.

CATS soon will serve several areas that did not previously have bus service, including O’Neal Lane and Coursey Boulevard, Metro Airport and the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired.

Wait times at bus stops and travel times between destinations will be shorter, bus system officials say, but they will not reach the 15 minute wait times at bus stops during peak times that were promised ahead of the tax election.

Only three routes will have 15-minute wait times during peak hours.

Almost all CATS routes now are directed to and from the Florida Boulevard terminal.

The new routes will be routed through three hubs across the parish which will lead to reduced travel times.

The Mall of Louisiana, Cortana Mall and the former Earl K. Long hospital were initially pegged as the new transfer points, but the closure of the hospital has left CATS searching for an adjacent location in north Baton Rouge.

Mirabito also announced Tuesday that he doesn’t expect the Mall of Louisiana will be able to serve as a long-term hub anymore, because new mall management is pushing back against their property being used as a bus transfer location.

Both the mall and the former Earl K. Long Hospital will serve as transfer points for at lest the next few months, until CATS can identify permanent hubs.

In the weeks leading up to the switch, CATS will be publishing new maps and training volunteers to answer questions for the first week of service changes.