After hearing complaints in recent years that it has cut back on several bus lines to increase ridership on its streetcars, the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority on Friday unveiled a plan that largely preserves existing buses around the route of the upcoming $41.5 million North Rampart streetcar line.
And in another win for some riders who have harangued the authority over the move, the proposal restores service to two bus lines the RTA slashed when it introduced the Loyola Avenue streetcar line in 2013.
“That’s basically a double win for riders,” said Alex Posorske, of RIDE New Orleans, a group that has criticized the transit authority’s streetcar investments.
The proposed plan, which is not final, seeks to tweak surrounding routes to incorporate the 1.6-mile Rampart-St. Claude streetcar project into New Orleans’ public transit system. Work on that line, which will run from Canal Street to Elysian Fields Avenue, should be complete this fall.
The plan is a sign that the RTA and the private company that runs its operations, Transdev, are rethinking their controversial strategy of prioritizing streetcars in some areas over buses — a practice that critics say favors tourists over residents, who prefer fewer transfers and more convenience when traveling to work or school.
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That strategy led to plummeting ridership on the 15-Freret Street line after the RTA cut short its route at the Union Passenger Terminal in 2013. The Freret bus used to run from Tulane University to Canal Street, but the downriver end of the line was chopped off to shift riders to the Loyola streetcar, which picks up passengers at the terminal and takes them the rest of the way to Canal Street.
Ridership on the Freret line dropped by 42 percent from 2012 to 2014 as a result, according to RIDE New Orleans.
The RTA also ended the 28-Martin Luther King Boulevard line at the terminal and merged it with the 24-Napoleon Avenue line.
Fearing the RTA would also cut service on the 88-St. Claude/Jackson Barracks route, the heavily used bus line that runs from Arabi to Canal Street, RIDE began a petition this month urging the agency to keep that line open all the way to Canal. The effort seems to have worked, Posorske said.
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Under the RTA’s proposal, the St. Claude line would continue to Canal but would make limited stops in the area where the new streetcar will also be running.
The Freret bus would again run all the way to Canal and University Place, and the 28-MLK route would return to Elk Place and Canal. The 57-Franklin Avenue bus, another line that partly runs where the streetcar will soon be operating, would instead take an alternate route to Canal, starting at Elysian Fields.
The 91-Jackson-Esplanade line would have limited stops between Esplanade Avenue and Canal and would slightly change its inbound route.
Separately, the RTA is proposing two streetcar service options. One would create a new streetcar line — dubbed the 46-Canal-Rampart — that would start at the Canal Street cemeteries, then run down Canal and along the track that is being laid on Rampart to Elysian Fields.
Another line would extend the existing 49-Loyola-UPT streetcar route along that new track and stop the 55-Elysian Fields bus at the French Market but increase service on surrounding bus and streetcar lines. The Elysian Fields bus now runs from the lake to Canal.
Posorske said his group hasn’t taken a position on either streetcar service option, but that he’d be curious to know if the RTA also plans to increase service frequency on the Elysian Fields bus line.
“On paper, that has potential, but we don’t know the details,” he said.
The plan apparently does not account for federal money the RTA is hoping to land that would extend the new Rampart streetcar route to St. Ferdinand Street, just short of the Press Street railroad corridor. Officials should find out this fall if they will receive that award.
The RTA will hold public workshops on the new proposal from July 11 to July 18 at various locations, with a public hearing on the plan July 19 at its board room on Canal Street.