One third of CATS buses had been disabled by warmth, provide shortages. These vans crammed the hole. | Information

More than a third of the buses operated by the Baton Rouge bus system have been out of service for much of the past week due to mechanical issues, which has put four white minivans into service to minimize disruption, officials from the Capital Area Transit System said .

A mixture of high outside temperatures, problems with the system’s new electric buses and a shortage of parts due to supply chain problems caused by the pandemic resulted in 24 of CATS’s 61 buses being unavailable Monday through Wednesday. Ten buses had failed by Friday afternoon, but the vans were no longer needed to fill out, the officials said.

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“This is unusual, but we just felt the need to do whatever we had to do to get these customers where they wanted to go, so the minivan was the option at that moment,” said Dwana Williams, chief operating officer CATS officer.

CATS maintenance department repaired 22 buses between Monday and Wednesday at the height of the breakdown, said Micah Anthony, the director of maintenance.

“My boys worked really hard last week and did some miracles,” said Anthony.

Despite limited availability of parts, this was made more difficult due to a national backlog at the system’s bus manufacturer, GILLIG, LLC

Repairs were made difficult by a lack of parts. When the maintenance staff ordered new parts in May, the manufacturer GILLIG, LLC spoke of a national backlog.

The backlog on some parts could last until early 2022, Anthony said.

The scorching heat last week made things worse. Air conditioners didn’t work, brakes overheated and water got into the compressors of “some” of the system’s new electric buses, Anthony said.

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The average age of the fleet is 6.5 years, below the industry standard of 7 years, Anthony said.

Forty-four buses are typically used on a specific day of the week to cover all CATS routes, Williams said. At one point 24 buses were broken.

So the system turned to the vans that are owned by CATS and labeled as CATS vehicles because they were the easiest way to prevent significant disruption to drivers, Williams said.

“It was quick thinking, quick action to harness this resource until we could get our fleet back up to speed,” said Williams.

The vans were deployed Monday through Thursday on Route 20, North Acadian Thrwy and Route 60, Medical Corridor, both of which are low-passenger routes, Williams said.

This is not the first time CATS has used vans to fill in its buses; It did so in 2014 and again in 2015 at a time when the system’s fleet was much older, Williams said.

The system’s buses only allow 16 people at a time due to COVID-19 restrictions – about half of their capacity. The vans could only carry two people at a time due to the restrictions, and the system received no complaints from drivers, Williams said.

The vans don’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Williams said, but safety precautions have been put in place to ensure appropriate transportation could be requested if a van driver encounters a driver who needs an ADA-compliant vehicle.

“Our job is to connect people with what matters,” said Williams. “When I see that people are stranded on the street because they have no option, we do what we can to get people where they need to go.”

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