Budget Threatens to Put Buses on Blocks

By Jared Loftus

Published June 8, 2011


Jared Loftus

The Capital Area Transit System (CATS) is facing a $1.2 million (and possibly larger, due to gas prices) budget deficit that threatens to shut down the City’s entire public transit system.

Despite the post-Katrina population boom, Baton Rouge’s public transit system still lacks a dedicated funding source that is guaranteed and sufficient. The current funding formula (federal dollars plus state dollars plus user fees) that fails to “make ends meet,” and forces our public transportation system to be beholden to the politics of the day. Every year, CATS sticks out its paws and hopes public transportation will find a way to survive. Despite this lack of funding, it manages to provide adequate and reliable transportation service at a reasonable cost to the rider. In January, the CATS Board presented a balanced budget to the Metro Council. Recognizing that there would be a budget shortfall, the Board made the difficult, but financially prudent, decision to cut service and increase fares. However, the Metro Council voted against the CATS Board action and its attempts to remain fiscally solvent. As a result, CATS is facing a shutdown of the entire system. Many local groups suggest creating a dedicated funding source through sales or property taxes. But even though taxes and fare hikes generate predictable and dedicated revenue, it does not address the immediate need for funding.

So what can we do to avoid the potential shutdown of Baton Rouge’s public transportation system?

As an entrepreneur, I react accordingly to what the market wants. The products I sell, the prices I charge, and the services I offer are all in direct relation to what the market will bear. This is no different for your elected officials. In this case, YOU are the market. You have the influence to steer the conversation. The only reason any of this is the hot topic of conversation it has become is because you have made it known that transportation matters to you.

I hope that you will join me in continuing the conversation around public transportation. We have to let the elected officials, stakeholders, our friends and our neighbors know that public transportation is important to us. We have to let them know that we need safe, convenient, and affordable ways for our friends, family, and neighbors to get to work, to school, or simply to run errands and enjoy our city’s many recreational and cultural opportunities. Without adequately funded public transit, our workforce is burdened, our students are inconvenienced, and our quality of life diminishes as traffic grows exponentially. We have to let them know that shutting down the public transit system is not an option. Together, we can better Baton Rouge for all citizens.

Jared Loftus is a local entrepreneur and CATS Board Member. This editorial was written from his perspective as an individual, and not as a statement from the entire Board.