Struggling to attract ‘riders of choice,’ CATS proposes cutting O’Neal Park and Ride, Mall of Louisiana to downtown Baton Rouge routes _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- A Capital Area Transit System (CATS) bus rolls on Florida Boulevard away from downtown Monday afternoon.

Baton Rouge's bus agency has codified a policy to ban riders who may be dangerous to drivers or other passengers.

Last year, The Advocate ran a story about a schizophrenic woman whose condition led her to several run-ins with law enforcement. The account also mentioned that she had been banned from the Capital Area Transit System.

After the story was published, a journalist and a member of the public asked to see CATS's ban policy, agency spokeswoman Amie McNaylor wrote in an email to The Advocate. The system approved a code of conduct in 2015, but the CATS board officially adopted a passenger ban policy during a Tuesday afternoon meeting.

The ban is important to maintain safety, CEO Bill Deville said. There have been instances of people throwing rocks at a bus in a remote area, a passenger who shouted and screamed so much the person had to be escorted off by police, and another passenger who tried to fight a driver.

"It's frightening," Deville said.

Board member Jim Brandt asked how often CATS has had to invoke a ban.

Only "a handful" of times, Deville responded. He didn't immediately have a precise number but said the bans usually wind up being temporary, often around 90 days.

CATS's director of operations — a post currently held by Dwana Williams — is in charge of overseeing bans, suspensions and appeals.

Riders can be kicked off for safety violations such as violence; bringing weapons, hazardous or flammable material, alcohol or drugs on board; throwing items out the window; or distracting the operator.

Passengers can also be banned over courtesy concerns like playing loud music, leaving behind trash, eating on board, taking up extra seats with carry-on items, vulgar language, blocking the aisle or having unclean personal hygiene.

CATS staff said they're not the only public transportation agency that deals with these issues, and that the policy was vetted by their attorney and approved by the union representing some of the agency's employees. The item passed unanimously.

In other business, the agency expects to complete construction on a new transit center at the Cortana Mall by the end of July, according to an executive staff report presented Tuesday. CATS had also hoped to open another hub downtown, but after years of trying to make it work, staff will instead consider three smaller locations and are working with the Downtown Development District to determine where they can be placed.

Meanwhile, the long-discussed Plank Road bus rapid transit route is still months away from opening. CATS doesn't expect the express line to begin operations until Late 2019 or the first quarter of 2020. The route is eventually supposed to  connect with Nicholson Drive to replace the scrapped plans for a downtown-LSU tram. Local authorities have gotten a preliminary assessment of possible stops but are still hunting for money for the full project.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.