Ridership rises after bus system expansion in Baton Rouge but agency must move key hub


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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Three months after Baton Rouge's bus system expanded service and added routes, ridership is up though the agency continues to adjust service.

A challenge remaining is locating a transfer hub to replace one at the Mall of Louisiana.

The Advocate reported (http://bit.ly/1nx0U4U) mall owners have told officials of the Capital Area Transit System, known as CATS, that the hub must be removed.

The transit system is working in other ways to improve service.

It recently extended lines and added stops on some routes. The agency has built new shelters at bus stops and is developing a Google-based online service that allowing riders to plan rides and transfers.

The transit system also is considering alternative fuels as it prepares to buy new buses.

"I think we've done well, and I think there's a lot of room for improvement," system CEO Bob Mirabito said of the first few months of the new services.

Figures supplied by CATS show ridership increased about 9 percent in the April-June period — 592,715 compared with to 546,058 for the same period of 2013.

CATS rolled out the new service beginning in April. But it hasn't all been smooth sailing.

After failed negotiations, Mall of Louisiana's management has asked CATS to move its transfer hub, which means rewriting several routes.

There's also still an average of five bus breakdowns a day, which contributes to buses being off schedule more than 25 percent of the time.

And since the new routes were implemented, bus drivers have been in 57 accidents. Officials attribute the crashes to the recent hiring of 70 new and inexperienced drivers for the expanded routes.

Transfer hubs are key to CATS' new services. Like airline hubs, buses converge at the hubs so riders can connect to their next bus. Before April, CATS had only one hub — the Florida Boulevard terminal — and routes were long as a result.

The new service included creating hubs at the Mall of Louisiana, Cortana Mall, North Boulevard and in North Baton Rouge next to the former Earl K. Long Hospital.

Mall of Louisiana manager Tony Stephens said CATS was never explicitly given permission to create a hub on the mall's property. However, CATS officials have said they had been in talks for several months with the mall's previous manager.

"It created a liability issue where buses are parked, and it inhibits the views of drivers," Stephens said. "I think it's dangerous where it's located."

Stephens said CATS is welcome to maintain a bus stop at the mall, but he said having five or six buses grouped in the parking lot creates traffic issues.

Mirabito said moving the hub is likely to be a six-month process and will require reworking several routes and obtaining approval of the Metro Council.


Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com

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