Bus riders pleased with CATS improvements

Troy Guerin now gets to spend more time with his family, thanks to the new bus routes implemented last week.

Guerin, who lives in midcity, relies on the bus system and uses it to visit his daughter and son, who live on O’Neal Lane.

But before March 30, Capital Area Transit System buses didn’t go to O’Neal Lane.

“I would ride as far as I could go and then I’d just call my daughter and have her come get me for the rest of the way,” he said. “She didn’t like it too much.”

Last week, CATS rolled out its long-anticipated new schedules, with shorter trip times and additional bus routes. After the initial shock of learning a completely new system wore off, riders generally seemed pleased with the changes.

“I’m ecstatic about the changes. It’s been a long time coming,” Guerin said. “I think it’s a lot faster, more choices now. I think it was $17 (million) or $18 million they received (in new tax money), and it was worth every penny.”

LaShaunta Dehon said the differences have been significant for her.

“If I miss a bus now, I’m not as worried because there’s another one coming right behind it,” she said. “The service is much better.”

She said one of the best improvements is the addition of transfer hubs, where riders can catch connecting buses.

Previously, all bus transfers were diverted to the Florida Boulevard terminal, meaning the overall route paths were not direct, thus were much longer than necessary.

Dehon works downtown and can now easily catch a bus to get across the parish from the North Boulevard Town Square hub without having to be transferred at Florida Boulevard first.

But the changes have been jarring for some.

Jane Harris, who took the bus to work on Thursday, said she wishes the routes had stayed the same.

“I’m still trying to learn it,” she said. “There are a lot of special buses now and you got to be careful not to get on those.”

Every CATS route changed last week except for one, and 10 new routes were added. The expansion is the direct result of the April 2012 tax election that passed in Baton Rouge and Baker.

CATS CEO Bob Mirabito said he thought the first week of service went reasonably well, and the service is bound to get better as both drivers and riders get acclimated to the changes.

“I think as the week progressed it got better and better,” he said. “I’m really pleased with what we’ve done.”

Between March 30 and April 3, CATS carried 36,927 passengers and had a 79 percent on-time performance rating.

Out of 144,603 total bus stops, CATS buses were more than 10 minutes late to a stop 22,380 times and earlier by five minutes 8,634 times.

This is the first week in CATS history that the agency has accurate passenger counts, because this was the first time its automatic passenger count technology was put to use.

Previously, passenger counts were done manually or estimated based on ticket counts.

Mirabito said the technology will help the system fine-tune routes and eliminate unnecessary bus stops to make the system even more efficient.

New technology also was unveiled this week along with the new routes.

The glitch-riddled GPS bus tracking program was turned back on after a year of reliability issues. Mirabito said the Route Shout programming was completely rebuilt over the past few months and is finally in working order.

He noted the program only works accurately if bus operators correctly log into the system when they start their routes.

The buses also are supposed to have working digital displays and automated voice announcements that alert riders of the upcoming stops.

Mirabito also noted some software has not come in, so it might not have been working properly on all of the buses last week.

CATS also created two new routes that are specifically targeting riders who have cars but could opt to take a bus. The O’Neal Lane park-and-ride route allows commuters to park their cars at the AMC movie theater on O’Neal Lane, and then take an express bus to downtown Baton Rouge. There’s also an express shuttle that goes from the Baton Rouge Metro Airport to downtown. Both routes have wireless internet to attract a business class.

This week, the O’Neal park-and-ride route served only 14 customers and the airport shuttle served only 22 customers, but CATS officials say a media campaign to promote the routes will begin next week.

Jon Chesler, who has ridden the bus for 10 years because of vision problems, said the system had some hiccups last week but he is optimistic about its ability to improve.

“Down the road, further along, it’ll be better, but the buses still don’t run completely by the schedule,” Chesler said. “But I got on a bus to come to Wal-Mart and it was maybe four minutes later than what it said. But that’s much, much better than it used to be. It used to always be at least 10 to 15 minutes late.”

Juanita and Hosia Dyson rode the bus Thursday from downtown to the Wal-Mart next to Cortana Mall.

“If we were going to Wal-Mart from where we live, it would take an hour, maybe two or three, but now it’s only taking a few minutes,” Hosia Dyson said.

His wife added that she’s been impressed by the improvements.

“I’m very pleased with it,” Juanita Dyson said. “I was telling him (Hosia) last night that the new man who took over, he’s doing a very good job, because things are faster.”