Regional Transit Authority considers dropping some routes to provide more frequent service on others _lowres (copy)

Advocate staff file photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- People wait in line for a bus to Lake Forest on Elk Place in the CBD in November. RIDE New Orleans, a public transit advocacy group, said in a report that the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority should increase its service to pre-Hurricane Katrina levels within the next four years. 

The average New Orleans resident who depends on public transit can reach just 11 percent of the region’s jobs within a half-hour, according to a new report that calls for a considerable boost in bus and streetcar service over the next four years.

The report, released this week by the transit advocacy group RIDE New Orleans, says that to connect more of the city’s residents with available jobs, the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority must make transit as accessible by 2020 as it was before Hurricane Katrina.

“This level of service will make it possible to restore frequent transit service to the majority of New Orleans neighborhoods and workers, putting better job and housing opportunities within easier reach,” the group said.

Restoring service to its pre-Katrina level — when the RTA put vehicles in service for about 1 million hours annually — is especially key in a city that is on track to get back near its pre-storm population within the next four years, RIDE added. The RTA today places vehicles in service for about 750,000 hours annually.

In 2004, about 444,000 people lived in New Orleans. If population growth continues as it has, then under conservative estimates, more than 412,000 residents could call the city home by 2020, said Alex Posorske, the group’s executive director.

RIDE acknowledges the price tag attached to such a move — $5.9 million annually, it estimates — but suggests the RTA could look into cutting costs or increasing revenue through a fare hike or other means.

Asked about RIDE’s proposals, Transdev, the private company that manages the city's buses and streetcars for the RTA board, issued a statement touting its upcoming strategic plan. Crafting the plan will take up to two years; a panel on Tuesday scored bids from consultants seeking to lead that process, though RTA plans to tap a winner at a later date. 

“The RTA’s strategic planning process will assess the current multimodal network of bus, streetcar, ferry and paratransit; determine whether new modes of transit are needed; and review aspects of RTA’s service delivery models,” the statement read.

The new report is the third annual transit study from an advocacy group that has become a driver of conversation about public transportation in the city. Past reports also have noted the disparity between pre-Katrina and post-Katrina service levels.

RIDE also has chided the RTA for building up its fleet of tourist-friendly streetcars at the expense of restoring some bus service, though it praised the RTA’s approval last week of the route for the new North Rampart streetcar line and its decision to preserve most nearby bus routes.

This year’s report also praises the RTA for its upcoming strategic plan, which the nonprofit encouraged the agency to create last year. RIDE touted service expansions the RTA rolled out in September 2015 and in April and said political leaders have begun to strike the right notes when it comes to public transportation needs. Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s resiliency strategy last year, for example, called for a revamp of the city’s transit options, the group said.

RIDE noted that more revenue or cost reductions are the only ways to bring about the major changes it advocates, which would require the RTA to boost service by 8 percent annually for the next four years.

The RTA could try to reduce its service costs — which in 2014 were the highest of 20 similarly sized transit agencies, and the second-highest when streetcar costs are excluded — or increase its basic $1.25 fare, which hasn’t changed since 1999. But no decisions should be made without public vetting, RIDE said; it recommended that an advisory committee study the issue over time.

If the city is serious about making jobs accessible, “then the transit situation is something we are all going to have to sit down and figure out,” said Posorske, the executive director.

“It’s not pointing fingers at anyone. It’s just the facts.”

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.