BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Capital Area Transit System (CATS) CEO Robert "Bob" Mirabito released an open letter to the public Friday afternoon.
An Open Letter To The Public
Baton Rouge is at the crossroads when it comes to public transportation. While the debate rages on, I am focused on the present. We, at CATS, are poised to deliver on our promise of a new transit system for the people of Baton Rouge. We will deliver improved quality to our customers, accountability to our taxpayers, and be the economic driver the City wants.
You can't talk about CATS without knowing its past. For years CATS barely had enough money to pay the bills. Decisions were made to address short-term needs while mortgaging the future of the agency. Because of this, the fleet has been aged and unreliable. In addition, employee wages and benefits were at the bottom of the U.S. transit industry. Sadly, this created an environment where staff did whatever they could, with whatever they had to provide a service that only customers who truly needed transit would accept.
My philosophy as CEO is simple. It is what I believe one should do if asked to lead. First, provide leadership and introduce accountability. Second, find out what's broken and fix it. Next, tell the public what's wrong and how it is being fixed. When I announced the farebox and charters issues, I knew I needed to introduce internal controls. I wanted to follow federal rules. Unfortunately, the announcement of these problems was used by some who would like to destroy CATS. This is ironic because of the constant cry for transparency from CATS. I have made it a priority to be as transparent as possible. In fact, the primary reason the public found out about these discrepancies was because I made them public. Some members of the "political class" seem determined to have privatization of the system and an elimination of the property tax. These are not solutions.
Let's talk about the most viable options for transit in Baton Rouge. The flamboyant solution is privatization. That means a private company comes in and provides a transit solution while making a profit. Presumably and unrealistically, this would be done without a tax or other subsidy. Will that work in Baton Rouge? The answer is No. The best run transit system is San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit. Even BART cannot make a profit. For every dollar spent in its operation, they collect $0.60. No profit there. For Baton Rouge, every dollar we spend to operate, we collect $0.14. This option kills transit in Baton Rouge. Another option is contract management. CATS hires a transit company to provide a defined management team to run the business. You will still need to have the property tax or other subsidies. With this option, your tax dollars are subsidizing profits for a private company who may or may not have the best interest of CATS at heart. Finally, you allow me and my team to finish what we have started. Our solution builds on what we have, while adding resources to deliver the system Baton Rouge deserves. I want to continue building a system where people will be held accountable for their actions. We will focus on providing our customers great service. We will also make public transit a tool that will improve the economic standing of Baton Rouge and its citizens. I've not been on the job for six months. However, I believe my start has earned me the opportunity to finish what I've started. CATS is more than just a bus company. In my opinion, it is a transit company that can be the envy of its peers. The first home game at LSU proves that people who are not accustomed to using our system can enjoy what we provide. In 2014, CATS will evolve. Now is not the time to make this system a whipping post for political gain. I believe this system can survive. I would like your support in improving CATS and making it a system that makes us all proud. It has taken decades to create the system we had. Fixing that system will take longer than three months. I humbly request the opportunity create a better CATS.
Robert J. Mirabito