Inside Report: CATS leader trying to improve service despite drama

It’s been a tumultuous three months for Bob Mirabito — more so than he ever imagined.

When he took the job to lead the Capital Area Transit System on an interim basis, he said he wanted to keep his head down, avoid the drama and get the job done.

And in the past few months, he’s gotten a lot of work done, but he’s also been engaged in a little drama of his own.

“I will tell you I underestimated the interest in CATS when I accepted the position,” Mirabito said. “I was hired to basically fix what was broken and move the company forward to get the system up and running.”

But the first month on the job, he was overwhelmed by news coverage and public commentary about improper procedures used to select the program management firm.

The next month, board member Montrell McCaleb resigned after being accused of stealing money from the agency to pay his bills. Over the next several weeks, three more board members resigned.

“I try to stay as focused as I can, giving direction to the staff and talking about what we have to do better and what we can do better,” Mirabito said. “At times it can be tough.”

Mirabito seemingly increased the tension between CATS and the council a few weeks ago when he wrote an open letter to the public with a thinly veiled dig at Councilman John Delgado, accusing him of attacking the bus agency for political gains.

The letter was not well-received by his board, which is attempting to improve its relationship with the council, especially since the council will vote in October to approve a bus route system redesign.

The drama appears to be subsiding, and Mirabito has been able to implement some changes and improve accountability.

He placed GPS technology on employee vehicles, saving 150 gallons in gasoline costs within the first three weeks. And three employees were disciplined after the GPS system showed they were traveling where they weren’t supposed to be, he said.

CATS also has extended its game day bus service to Southern University, after enjoying a few years of success with the Touchdown Express for LSU game days.

Recently, Mirabito has started talking about his plans for the agency’s future, even though it’s unclear whether he will be a part of it.

He wants to make CATS more user-friendly, with changes such as accepting debit cards on buses, upgrading the website and establishing a $4 day pass.

He wants to make wireless Internet available on the buses, to encourage more people to take the bus for their commute.

“If you’re going to take 30 minutes to get downtown, you can do some work on your laptop,” he said.

This is Mirabito’s first foray into transportation management. He previously was employed as the chief information officer for the Baton Rouge Radiology Group. But that position was eliminated.

His contract with CATS is for nine months, but he’s said he wants to be considered for the permanent CEO position at the agency.

The board intends to hold a national search; however, no such search has started.

David Aguillard, the spokesman for the Baton Rouge Transit Coalition, said Mirabito is a qualified applicant, but the coalition will still expect a national search.

“Mr. Mirabito was hired as an interim CEO and we expect a national search to take place,” Aguillard said. “We want the most qualified applicant available to fill the position.”

Rebekah Allen covers East Baton Rouge Parish government. She can be reached at rallen@theadvocate.com or follow her on Twitter at @rebekahallen.