Bus riders in New Orleans will see new and expanded routes beginning Sunday, part of an effort by the Regional Transit Authority to step up transit access in underserved areas of the city.
Three new lines will start running in New Orleans East, Algiers and the Carrollton area, while others will be extended or will see buses come along more frequently. Taking into account service changes that began in January, the RTA this year will have added about 60,000 service hours per year to the system, at a cost of about $5 million annually.
“This service change is really focused on trying to bring everybody up to at least a reasonable level of service and to use that as a foundation to build more service in the future,” said Stefan Marks, who serves as director of scheduling and planning for Transdev, formerly known as Veolia Transportation, the private company that operates the RTA system.
While new routes have been in the works for months, the RTA was the subject of a scathing report recently by the nonprofit group Ride New Orleans, which faulted the agency for moving too slowly to restore transit services in low-income parts of the city.
At the same time, the RTA faces serious financial constraints. The agency hasn’t raised fares since 1999, and it is burning through its reserve funds.
Officials with the agency have been talking with their counterparts at City Hall about the need to bring in more revenue; any fare hike will need approval from the City Council.
“It’s a topic that we’re grappling with,” said Salvador Longoria, who chairs the RTA’s board, though he said there’s been no discussion about setting a date for a vote.
In the meantime, the RTA is going forward with whatever resources it can muster. To pay for the $5 million worth of recent service increases, the agency is adopting a longer timetable for paying off pension obligations.
Justin Augustine, Transdev’s vice president in charge of the local transit system, said the expansion has meant 30 new jobs at the RTA.
“We’re not perfect,” Augustine said. “But I tell you one thing that we do: We listen. We have learned very well how to listen and try to make adjustments. Sometimes on the fly.”