The Capital Area Transit System will invest $3.6 million to buy eight new buses to begin replacing an aging fleet prone to breakdowns.
The CATS board signed off at its monthly meeting Tuesday on purchasing the eight buses at $450,000 apiece. The board also approved a one-year, $50,000 contract with consulting firm Covalent Logic after receiving poor customer service reviews in recent weeks.
“We do have a plan to purchase 12 additional new buses each year starting next year,” CATS CEO Bob Mirabito said. CATS already has an order in for four buses.
The 2016 Gillig buses will arrive next year, which is when CATS will pay for them. Mirabito said the agency will then determine if it will pay with cash, use a financing option like a loan or pay with a combination of both.
Mirabito said CATS should replenish its entire fleet within the next five years.
“I’m glad that y’all are buying more buses, but this should have been done not now but a year ago,” rider Nora Mercer said at the meeting. “Even six months ago.”
CATS also sought a public relations firm that has experience with media planning and crisis management.
The agency has had trouble maintaining a good public image over the past few years. Despite voters approving a tax for CATS three years ago that the bus system pledged would go toward improving service, CATS has struggled to meet expectations.
Customers continue to complain they are waiting too long for buses that do not consistently arrive on time, and the aging fleet also has seen buses break down. Mirabito also has clashed with employees in the union who have accused him of mismanagement and disrespect.
He speculated a survey that shows a new low in the number of people willing to recommend CATS could have been affected by transit union protests. The picketing occurred close to the same time when the survey was underway.
Multiple riders complained at Tuesday’s meeting about the conditions of the buses and the state of CATS.
“Why would we need to hire public relations?” asked Champagne Starr, another rider. “If we’re actually doing our job correctly, your image would be correct in the public’s eye.”
Stafford Wood, Covalent Logic’s founder, said its goal is to present CATS in a truthful and authentic fashion. She said Covalent Logic will try to help improve the CATS feedback system and make sure riders believe their complaints are being heard.