Congressman calls for overhaul of CATS, says system isn’t working

    With ridership on the Capital Area Transit System’s rebranded Red Stick Trolley—formerly the Garden District Trolley—continuing to dwindle, Congressman Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, is calling for the agency to do away with the route and reevaluate just about every aspect of its operations.

    “The CATS system is a disaster,” Graves says. “It should be blown up and we should start over again.”

    Graves, who has made addressing the area’s transportation infrastructure issues and chronic gridlock one of his main priorities, says CATS is part of the problem not the solution. He says the Red Stick Trolley is an example of a failed idea that is wasting taxpayer dollars.

    “If they’re dead set on having people drive empty vehicles around, give them scooters,” he says. “It’s beyond a demonstrated failure. Stop bleeding the money and let’s put it in other things.”

    Graves lives in the Garden District, which the trolley was created to serve in early 2015, and says he is frustrated on visits home to the district to see the trolley cruising up and down neighborhood streets—almost always without passengers.

    Statistics back up Graves’ anecdotal observations, which have been shared by many. In the first two months of 2016, ridership averaged just 176 passengers per month, or about six per day. That’s fewer passengers than the lowest month of 2015, which had 182 passengers. On average, the trolley had about 15 riders per day last year.

    “We agree with Congressman Graves that we don’t want empty buses on our routes,” says CATS CEO Bob Mirabito in a written response to Graves’ comments. “That’s why we are working both to improve the marketing of our services and to make it easier, through House Bill 159, for CATS to change and delete its routes based on ridership.”

    HB 159 would allow the CATS board to make route changes and fare increases without having to first seek Metro Council approval.

    CATS board president Jim Brandt says while the agency has tried marketing the Red Stick Trolley somewhat more aggressively in recent months, the lack of ridership is getting to the point where a decision on the route is forthcoming. At its meeting in April, the board will discuss the trolley’s fate.

    “It’s a timely question and one that we, as a board, are getting ready to address,” he says. “If we can make a success of the service  that would be great but if it doesn’t work we can’t carry it forever.”

    —Stephanie Riegel

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