The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority is considering four different options for how the new North Rampart Street-St. Claude Avenue streetcar line will operate when it opens in a few months, and how that service will impact bus routes in the area.
The main question is whether the new line — which will cover the 1.6 miles from Canal Street to Elysian Fields Avenue — should continue across Canal Street into the Central Business District or whether it should turn and head up Canal Street, RTA officials told the audience at a public hearing on the plans Tuesday night.
After hearing complaints in recent years that it has cut back on several bus lines to increa…
All four proposals call for buses to continue operating on North Rampart along with the streetcars. Those buses will make fewer stops along the stretch between Esplanade Avenue and Canal Street but will offer more frequent service.
The four plans are built around two options for how the Rampart streetcar route will continue when it reaches Canal. One would have the streetcars continue across Canal to the Union Passenger Terminal. The other would have them turn onto Canal to follow the tracks up to the Cemeteries stop at City Park Avenue.
The RTA has proposed two further options for each of those scenarios that would tweak other nearby transit service to complement the streetcars.
One would see the 55-Elysian Fields and 5-Marigny-Bywater buses stop at the French Market instead of continuing on to Canal Street and would increase service on the Riverfront streetcar line. The other option would keep the bus lines the same but increase frequency on the Riverfront streetcar.
Tuesday's hearing, aimed at gathering public input on the various plans, garnered largely praise for the RTA and Veolia Transportation, the company that runs the agency's day-to-day operations.
"I really appreciate that you guys are going to keep the St. Claude bus the same," Amanda Mendoza said. "I was really disturbed when I heard you might need a transfer."
Crews are now overlaying asphalt on North Rampart Street, one of the final steps in the construction of the new line. Officials say that process could take several weeks, with the streetcar line to be up and running by early fall.
The RTA's board of commissioners will choose among the four options at an upcoming meeting.
Under all the plans being considered, buses also would continue to run on Rampart.
Before construction began, the potential for the streetcar to replace, rather than supplement, buses on the route was a major concern for residents of areas such as Marigny and Bywater, who worried that in the future trips upriver from their neighborhoods would require the hassle and delay of transfers.
Their concern about route changes was largely driven by service changes made after the opening of the Loyola Avenue streetcar line that required some riders coming from Uptown to get off their buses at Union Passenger Terminal and switch to the new streetcars to get to Canal.
That caused ridership on at least two bus lines to drop and sparked criticism that the RTA was prioritizing streetcars over buses and focusing on routes and strategies that served tourists rather than locals.
The new plans for the North Rampart-St. Claude line call for the restoration of those two routes, the 15-Freret and 28-Martin Luther King bus lines -- a change that has earned praise from transit advocates, including groups that often have been critical of the RTA..
A group of public transit advocates and riders on Tuesday cheered service enhancements launc…
Alex Posorske, executive director of RIDE New Orleans, said the return of the full Freret and Martin Luther King lines "will help connect a lot of neighborhoods in the city." He said the group's chief criticism was a lack of public input earlier in the process.
"We'd like to see more consensus building earlier in the planning process," Posorske said. "It really builds and maintains the trust needed for us all to move forward."
There was little direct criticism of any of the plans for the Rampart line during this week's meeting, though some worried that fewer stops between Esplanade and Canal would cause problems.
Others had more general complaints about the streetcars or transit in general.
Two women said lax policies about allowing uncapped alcohol on the St. Charles streetcar line are causing problems and that drivers should be allowed to refuse to allow service animals on the streetcar if they are too dirty.
In addition, some argued that the transit agency is still far from providing a level of service equal to that in place before Hurricane Katrina.
"If I don't live on a (streetcar line), that means I'm still waiting 45 minutes to an hour for a bus," Eliza Davis said. "Why can't we go back to the old system? ... Bring the old buses back," she added.