Chamber EBR Free Market Should Provide Transportation
After gaining approval of a $165 million tax increase last April from voters in the cities of Baton Rouge and Baker, the Capital Area Transit System (CATS) should find itself “sitting pretty.” But instead the government-owned bus company finds itself mired in scandal. The legislative auditor is conducting an audit, the state inspector general has launched an investigation, and a criminal probe is pending.
Now some members of the Metro Council are calling for the resignation and replacement of the entire CATS board, and even some of CATS’ strongest supporters are calling for the resignation of board chairman Isaiah Marshall.
The agency cannot account for missing bus fare money, a board member paid his phone and cable bills from the CATS bank account, and the awarding of a management contract has been put on hold because of possible bid-rigging.
Opponents of the CATS tax gathered at Tuesday’s meeting of the Chamber of Commerce of East Baton Rouge to review last year’s CATS tax campaign, be reminded of who supported the tax, update themselves on litigation challenging the constitutionality of the tax, review the CATS board’s current problems, and discuss free market alternatives to taxpayer-funded, government-run bus companies.
Taxbusters co-chairmen Liz Dent and Glenda Pollard gave a humorous review of last year’s CATS tax election and noted that proponents said passing the tax was necessary to make Baton Rouge the nation’s next great city.
Ms. Dent read quotes from Rev. Lee Wesley, Rev. Louis Jetson, and other leaders of Together Baton Rouge, promising that bus service would greatly improve with buses every 15 minutes. They promised to hold CATS strictly accountable for anything that would go wrong.
Dent reviewed the claims of Taxbusters that the 10.6 mill property would put a needless burden on property owners and that the election district had been gerrymandered.
Scott McKay, publisher of TheHayride.com, said the scandals plaguing CATS are “not remarkable” but rather they are typical of “urban socialism at work.”
“This is what destroyed Detroit,” he said. “They hollowed out the working people.”
“The CATS tax was never about helping poor people. This was always about making money for a political elite,” he said.
McKay challenged the idea that a government-run bus system is any kind of “reform” or representation of progress. “It’s really a 20th century answer to a 21st century problem,” he said.
He said that Baton Rouge is a low density city where the vast majority of people have cars. Even the poor have cars here, he said. Buses don’t solve the problem because there are not enough people to ride the bus, and there is no central downtown area that people are trying to get to.
“In Baton Rouge, people want to get from Point A to Point B,” he said, which makes the city perfect for some of the free market approaches that are being tried across the country. He cited for-profit businesses, coops, and movements such as Uber, LYFT, RideShare, Sidecar, Zip Car and others, which are challenging the taxi cab unions and the political establishment to allow people to get where they want rapidly, efficiently, and safely.
“The 225 crowd always says they want Baton Rouge to be hip and be the latest and greatest. Do you think that crowd is going to ride the bus? No, they won’t!” he said.
“But they might well pick up their iPhone and use the LYFT app or the RideShare app to get a driver in a luxury car to pick them up promptly and take them in safety to the place they are going — all for less than what CATS costs for the average rider!” he said.
“Baton Rouge can become the mecca for free market transportation services. We should invite LYFT, Uber, RideShare, and all the others to come in and invite Baton Rouge entrepreneurs to compete too.”
“With LYFT, every driver is rated by each passenger, and each passenger is rated by each driver on the LYFT app. So if you don’t provide great service or don’t pay for your service, you will not be able to make a connection in the future.” McKay said if the bus system were eliminated, some of the CATS budget could be used to subsidize poor people who use the new free market system.
McKay said CATS has been hiding its ridership numbers and has never come clean with the public to tell them how few people ride the CATS buses everyday.
“It’s amazing. CATS claims their cost is 74 cents per mile per passenger, but they can’t tell how many people ride the bus everyday. How can you have a cost per mile per passenger and not know how many passengers you have? That doesn’t make sense.” McKay said it’s no wonder that CATS is missing its bus fare money. “They can’t figure out how many people ride the bus. So how would they know how much is missing?” he asked.
In the 1950’s, the privately-owned Baton Rouge Bus Company had a turnstile at the entrance of every bus and a counter that was visible for every rider to see. So the day’s collections always had to match the number of riders.
“Today CATS buses are never full. You’ll usually see two or three people on a bus. Most urban bus systems are not nearly so empty,” he said.
“We need a free market solution to public transportation and an alternative to CATS,” he said.