POSTED: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 - 4:00am
UPDATED: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 - 4:04am
Baker, LA (NBC33) — Members of the CATS board and staff joined local politicians to show how the agency plans to improve public transit in Baker.
Baker was the only city beyond Baton Rouge to approve the 10.6 mill funding tax for CATS in 2012. But the city has no representation on the board, leading many residents to feel their concerns have been ignored.
Monday night, CATS' CEO, Bob Mirabito, showed for the first time some of the new schedules and routes CATS wants to put in place during a town hall meeting. A circular route would take residents around the city in a loop, while another route would run along Highway 19 to connect Baker to Baton Rouge. But since Zachary residents voted down the tax, the buses will not go there.
That upset Metro Council member Trae Welch, whose district encompasses parts of Baker and all of Zachary. He pointed out that Lane Regional Medical Center is the closest hospital to Baker, and that many plant workers will not have stops near their jobs.
The new route plan, "tells you where you're supposed to go, as opposed to you telling it where you need to go," he said.
Mirabito responded that Baker residents will have a large amount of input regarding where the routes and stops are ultimately located. He called the maps he presented Monday night rough drafts. He said another public meeting will be held in Baker on September 23 to further discuss the new routes.
Baker will also get shelters for its bus stops. There are none currently, so riders have to wait in the rain or in the heat until the bus arrives; most bus stops in the city do not even have benches. Mirabito said CATS will install two shelters in the next couple weeks, with more coming throughout the fall. And as for new buses, those are coming, too. But he mentioned that it takes a year and a half from the time an order is placed to seeing a new bus on the road.
The lack of new shelters and buses is one of the primary complaints voiced by CATS riders.
"We feel the frustration," board president Dalton Honore II said. "I will say, and I'm speaking from the heart, that we, as board members, feel the frustration of everyone."
As time passes, opponents of CATS get louder. Metro Council member John Delgado is among the most critical. He announced on Monday his intention to ask the capital area delegation to the state legislature to repeal the statute that created CATS so a private company could operate it, instead.
Mirabito reiterated his intention to hire 70 additional bus operators, and offered March 31, 2014 as the date when the new-and-improved route structure would take effect.
"We just have to hold off for another few months and change is coming," Honore said.
"Because of your demands, because of your commitment, because of your questions, we will change the system."
CATS has three vacancies on its board, with at least one of them slated to go to a Baker resident. Four candidates, Bill Johnson, Douglas Pennington, Carl Spears, and Troy Watson, got a chance to make their cases and tell the room why they would be good representatives for Baker. The first vacancy will not come before the Metro Council until October 9.