The board of the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority approved final routes for the new North Rampart Street-St. Claude Avenue streetcar line and surrounding bus routes Tuesday, clearing the way for service to begin this fall.
After weighing several options at multiple public meetings, the RTA will let the new line — which covers the 1.6 miles from Elysian Fields Avenue to Canal Street — continue across Canal Street into the Central Business District, stopping at the Union Passenger Terminal.
Another option, ultimately rejected, was to let it turn and head up Canal Street toward the cemeteries.
In dual wins for local riders who prefer buses over streetcars, bus routes that now run along North Rampart will continue to do so, although they’ll make fewer stops between Elysian Fields and Canal, and a proposal to cut off two other downriver bus lines at the French Market and force riders to transfer to streetcars was rejected.
“We heard from customers consistently that they want to get to Canal Street, particularly from the further-out neighborhoods in the Lower 9th Ward,” said CJ Bright, director of planning and scheduling for Transdev, the private company that manages the RTA’s operations.
The decision signals a shift in the RTA’s thinking. The agency’s past practice of cutting off some bus lines short of Canal Street so as to boost streetcar ridership has been heavily criticized, with some residents saying it favored tourists over locals, who prefer fewer transfers as they travel to work or other destinations.
Clamor rose in 2013 after the RTA opened its Loyola Avenue/Union Passenger Terminal streetcar line and made service changes to some nearby bus routes, forcing some riders coming from Uptown to get off their buses at the terminal and switch to the new streetcar line to get to Canal Street.
But this time, the RTA will preserve the North Rampart bus routes, including the heavily used 88-St. Claude/Jackson Barracks line. After it stops at Elysian Fields, however, that line will now stop only five times heading to Canal Street: at St. Bernard Avenue, Esplanade Avenue, St. Ann Street, Conti Street and Canal itself, Bright said.
The 91-Jackson-Esplanade line will also stop at those locations. The 57-Franklin Avenue line will take an alternate route to Canal, starting at Elysian Fields.
On the 15-Freret and the 28-Martin Luther King lines — two lines whose routes were modified to make way for the Loyola Avenue streetcar — the RTA will restore their service to Canal Street and will take both lines out of the Union Passenger Terminal entirely.
Also, while officials had considered the idea of cutting off the 5-Marigny/Bywater and the 55-Elysian Fields bus lines at the French Market and transferring riders to the Riverfront streetcar line, that plan was scrapped in favor of new schedules.
The Elysian Fields line will continue to run from the lake to Canal Street, while the Marigny/Bywater will continue to run from Poland and St. Claude avenues to Canal, both going through the French Quarter. But instead of three schedules for weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays, the buses will have significantly revised schedules on Fridays and Saturdays and less marked differences on other days of the week, Bright said.
Meanwhile, the Riverfront and Canal streetcar lines will see increased service.
“We’ve noticed that traffic conditions are very different on Fridays and Saturdays getting through the Quarter than they are during the rest of the week,” Bright said.
The RTA is also extending the 80-Desire/Louisa line’s hours, in response to riders who said they want to get to the Central Business District and French Quarter earlier on weekdays and to leave those areas later on weekends, he said. That bus travels from the Southern University at New Orleans campus to Elk Place at Cleveland Avenue.
Alex Posorske of RIDE New Orleans, a group that has criticized some past RTA service decisions, praised the return of the full Freret and Martin Luther King routes and the preservation of the St. Claude Avenue line. "We are very glad ... they are prioritizing keeping a bus that helps a lot of people get where they need to go in Orleans Parish and throughout the region," he said of the St. Claude line.
Crews are nearly finished laying down asphalt along the new streetcar line, Transdev spokeswoman Patrice Bell Mercadel said. Next, the RTA will run test cars on the line and train the operators. The line is due to be finished in early fall.
While the RTA had hoped to receive a $26 million federal grant to extend the Rampart streetcar line farther out St. Claude Avenue to St. Ferdinand Street near the downriver edge of Faubourg Marigny, its request was recently denied, Mercadel said.
It’s not the first time a hoped-for Rampart line extension has been scuttled for lack of funds. The agency has sought funding to take the streetcars as far downriver as Poland Avenue.