For more than a year, the Capital Area Transit System has parked its buses in front of the Old State Capitol downtown, to the dismay of the Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees the historic building and museum housed inside.
Now, the Secretary of State’s Office, which has cited safety concerns for patrons visiting the museum, is going to court to try to force CATS to do something it has promised but failed to do — move the buses to a different downtown location.
In a lawsuit filed Monday, Secretary of State Tom Schedler asked a judge to intervene and mandate that the buses be moved from outside the Old State Capitol.
The suit notes that the Old State Capitol is “visited by thousands of school children and tourists annually,” in addition to being a venue for weddings, receptions and other events and being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Representative for Schedler’s office have previously told the Metro Council that they are concerned about the safety of children and tourists having to cross in front of the buses to get to the museum.
The suit contends the buses block and interfere with school and tour buses that bring visitors to the facility, while illegally taking up handicap and fire zone parking.
The suit says CATS CEO Bob Mirabito promised to move the buses multiple times throughout the year, first promising to make the change in March, then May, then November of this year, before most recently saying the change would not take place until October of next year.
“Despite the consistent, vocalized disapproval from Schedler and numerous unkept promises from Mirabito, CATS continues to use the west end of North Boulevard, directly in front of the main entrance to the (Old State Capitol) on its north side as its downtown hub for approximately 10 of its routes,” the suit states.
Amie McNaylor, CATS spokeswoman, said Tuesday that bus company officials had not seen the lawsuit and would not comment directly on pending litigation.
But she said in an email that CATS has worked over the past year with the Downtown Development District, the Mayor’s Office, the Planning Commission, a city traffic engineer and the Capital Region Planning Commission to find a location for the downtown bus hub.
“Through multiple meetings and conversations with the various parties, two locations were proposed for CATS,” she said in the email. “CATS met resistance at each location and has been unable to move from its current location. CATS continues to work with all parties involved to find a suitable resolution.”
On Tuesday, Schedler’s office sent Mirabito a letter that outlined some of the concerns in the lawsuit, while still offering another opportunity to resolve the issue outside of a courtroom.
“Ultimately, our intention is to amicably resolve these concerns by setting a firm date for the bus hub to be permanently relocated,” said the letter, written by Joe Salter, undersecretary for management and finance. The letter said Schedler would agree to enter a consent agreement setting the relocation date for Jan. 18, 2016.
CATS has several “hubs” across the parish where routes intersect and numerous buses can be seen waiting at a time.
Like airline hubs, the bus hubs are places buses converge, picking up and dropping off riders so they can make connections to their next bus.
The downtown hub serves as a nexus for at least 10 routes, making it one of the busier hubs. It was originally located a few feet away from the Old State Capitol where a covered bus stop with benches and digital signage had been constructed in front of Galvez Plaza, but downtown officials complained it was congesting the downtown area and was unusable during the numerous downtown events that cut off road access to that area.
In October 2014, Schedler’s attorney, Wade Shows, went before the Metro Council asking them to intervene and get the buses moved away from the museum.
After the meeting, Mirabito proposed both North Seventh Street, between Florida Boulevard and Convention Street, and the intersection of Third Street and Lafayette Street options, according to the suit.
But in October, Mirabito called the Secretary of State’s Office and indicated the downtown hub would now be at South River Road near the Baton Rouge River Center Arena, which would require the removal of parking meters and construction of a shelter. At that point, Mirabito said the move “cannot feasibly take place prior to October of 2016.”
McNaylor said it’s premature to discuss where the new hub will be, but she said that the River Road site is among those being considered as “a temporary solution.”
Ideally, she said, CATS wants to be in an area that is both “centrally located and accommodating to its customers and the downtown community.”
Schedler is being represented by Shows’ law firm in the suit, at a rate of $175 an hour.
Meg Casper, spokeswoman for the secretary of state, said the office has in-house attorneys and occasionally uses the Attorney General’s Office for legal matters but had an existing contract with Shows for a previous legal issue.
She noted their in-house attorneys were not used because the office is dealing with an “abundance of lawsuits” and they needed additional help.