Facing criticism from city council on many issues, New Orleans RTA touts new plans, like shuttle service to airport _lowres

ADVOCATE FILE PHOTO -- New Orleans Regional Transit Authority bus shown in September 2005.

Facing criticism about spotty bus service, New Orleans Regional Transit Authority officials said Monday that they hope to add 24-hour service on more major routes next year and begin regular service to Louis Armstrong International Airport.

The agency is expecting revenue of $98.3 million in 2016, up about 3 percent from this year. That’s largely thanks to more sales tax revenue as well as passenger fees. The RTA expects to end the year with a surplus of $3.6 million.

“We want 24-hour service on some of the main routes like Broad Street,” said Salvador Longoria, the RTA board chairman. “We want workers to get to downtown faster and easier than they can get there now.”

Justin Augustine, the RTA’s general manager, said he also wants to create an express route from downtown to the airport, but his board has yet to approve that plan.

Proposed enhancements aside, council members seized on an opportunity to question the RTA’s leadership about complaints they’ve been getting over long wait times and a perception that the city’s quaint streetcars are being prioritized over the more widely used buses.

Last year, the advocacy group Ride New Orleans issued a scathing report concluding that upgrades in public transit haven’t kept pace with the city’s growth since Hurricane Katrina and that some neighborhoods have fared worse than others.

“I have a lot of people in the Lower 9th Ward who work in the Central Business District who need to get to work,” Councilman James Gray said.

Augustine said that while residents want bus service at pre-Katrina levels, the existing ridership won’t support it.

“As the population re-establishes itself, then the services will be out there,” he said.

Council members did not relent. More people are using streetcars instead of buses simply because that’s what the RTA is providing, Councilwoman Susan Guidry said. Riders often must transfer from buses to streetcars because of the way the system is set up, she said.

Councilwoman Stacy Head called decreased ridership a case of “the chicken and the egg.” If the city adds more buses in Hollygrove, the population there will grow, she said.

Augustine and Longoria said the RTA is working on a master plan to identify and address needs.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.