As 2016 winds down, the Capital Area Transit System highlights the progress it made in recent months – including hiring a transit veteran to be its permanent CEO and putting a dozen new buses in service – during its final meeting of the year.
The two most defining moments of CATS’ year occurred in the late summer when CATS assisted with the response to the flooding in Baton Rouge, evacuating 6,000 people to safety and providing critical service in the weeks following the flood, even with many staff members affected and displaced.
The next month, CATS named Bill Deville, a transit veteran with more than 30 years of experience, to lead the agency, as its CEO.
“CATS has taken great care this year to make decisions that not only improve service but also set the agency up for future success in 2017 and beyond,” said CATS Board President Jim Brandt.
“As an agency, CATS has made great strides in improving its operations and its fleet over the past year,” Deville said. “We are excited for the improved service we will be able to offer to our riders in the coming year.”
CATS major accomplishments for 2016 include:
PUTTING NEW BUSES ON THE ROAD AND NEW SHELTERS AT BUS STOPS
CATS put 12 new buses on the road, replacing some older buses that were a struggle to keep functional, placing a strain on CATS’ maintenance efforts and the reliability of its fleet. Removing older buses from the fleet means routes will operate more efficiently.
“Reducing the age of our fleet is a vital part of our plans to put newer buses on the road and provide better, more reliable service to our riders,” Deville said. “New buses are also a welcome addition for our maintenance team, which has worked tirelessly over the years to keep the older buses functioning.”
In addition, CATS applied for and won federal funding that will allow it to purchase three electric buses and necessary charging equipment, adding another three brand new buses to its fleet in 2017. CATS will also pilot the use of electric buses to see if they can add efficiency to CATS operations and finances.
CATS made significant progress on its project to install or improve bus shelters along its routes. This work is now more than 85 percent complete.
RESPONDING TO THE FLOODING
In total, CATS helped evacuate more than 6,000 members of the public in coordination with local law enforcement agencies following the historic flood in the Baton Rouge area. Additionally, CATS provided local service to shelters that opened in Baton Rouge, in coordination with state government leaders.
CATS worked with the Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, DOTD, CRPC, the City of Baker, FTA Region VI and FEMA to coordinate service and assist with flood response.
While the agency did not see any flooded vehicles, the strain of assisting with evacuations throughout the course of the flooding caused additional wear and tear on the fleet. Of CATS staff members, 43 operators suffered losses, which further impacted operations. A number of administrative staff members also saw losses.
HIRING A TRANSIT VETERAN AS CEO
CATS hired Bill Deville, an experienced leader who has worked in transportation for more than 32 years, to be its CEO. Deville served as the agency’s interim CEO for most of the year.
Deville is the former CEO of the Regional Transit Authority in New Orleans, a role that he served in during Hurricane Katrina. Deville’s 22-year career with the RTA also included stints as its budget director and chief financial officer.
After leaving the RTA, Deville worked in FEMA’s transitional recovery office in New Orleans. He joined CATS in 2013 as the chief operating officer and project manager through MV Transportation, the private company that helped implement the CATS route expansion in 2014.
SAYING GOODBYE TO THE BLUEBIRD BUSES
CATS will officially retire its problematic Bluebird buses at the end of the year and made the last payment on these vehicles. The company that makes these buses went out of business several years ago.
CATS had been faced with the prospect of paying back around $1 million of federal funding because it was retiring the buses before the planned end of their use. CATS successfully petitioned the Federal Transit Authority to waive this requirement.
Not having to pay back the $1 million in federal funding is key to CATS continuing to put newer, more reliable buses on the road and improving service to the people of Baton Rouge.
ELIMINATING UNDERPERFORMING ROUTES AND ENHANCING SERVICE
CATS started and ended 2016 by enhancing service on popular routes because it removed underperforming ones. At the end of January 2016, CATS added buses to four routes and enhanced five others following the removal of unpopular routes in 2015.
In December 2016, CATS stopped service to the Red Stick Trolley route and moved its downtown hub to the CATS terminal, which allowed for minor adjustments to improve service on routes that flow through downtown. Additional run cuts and route enhancements are planned in Spring of 2017.