One month after the Regional Transit Authority launched its largest service expansion in more than a decade, riders are taking advantage of the extended hours, according to data the agency released Tuesday.
The data, however, compare ridership only in the months directly before and directly after the service changes, which took effect April 17. And they capture a particularly busy time of the year for the RTA, including the French Quarter Festival and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
Still, the figures show that many riders availed themselves of added daily, overnight and weekend service on 20 bus or streetcar routes and of a new shuttle line from the Central Business District to Louis Armstrong International Airport.
“It looks like the biggest jump in the numbers was on the weekdays, which is precisely what we wanted,” RTA board Chairman Sal Longoria said.
Transit service planners focused on three areas — the Central Business District, Tulane and Loyola universities Uptown and the University of New Orleans on the Lakefront — that are seen as major employment hubs and destinations, especially for students.
The agency aimed the changes at riders headed to those areas from more far-flung parts of the city, such as New Orleans East, and at service and construction workers who need transit options that extend well beyond normal business hours.
Service industry workers and others particularly clamored for more transit options after Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s recent hike in parking meter rates in and around the CBD and French Quarter.
Overall, bus service increased by about 11 percent and weekend bus service by about 28 percent.
For four of the five RTA routes with the largest ridership — the 94-Broad, 39-Tulane, 88-St. Claude and 62-Morrison Express lines — that got additional service, the number of overall riders increased after the service expansion, data show.
The exception was the 47-Canal-Cemeteries streetcar route, which at more than 134,000 riders had the largest ridership in the city from mid-March to mid-April but which fell to 120,688 riders after the service changes.
Chief Operating Officer Brendan Matthews attributed that ridership decline to French Quarter Fest, which ran from April 7-10, during the month before the changes, and which drew an estimated 760,000 people — the largest total in that festival’s history.
Jazz Fest ran from April 23 to May 1, during the second measuring period, but it suffered steep attendance declines due to heavy rain its second weekend, which meant the RTA did not get the Canal streetcar ridership it expected for the mid-April to mid-May period, officials said.
The Canal streetcar runs from Canal Boulevard and City Park Avenue to the riverfront.
Most other routes also saw increased overall ridership after the changes went into effect.
The biggest spike for the 94-Broad line, another of the nine routes that now provide 24-hour service, occurred on weekdays, when 7,895 additional riders boarded. Many did so between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The heaviest nighttime ridership increase over the previous month came between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m., when 635 additional riders boarded. A Broad bus now runs every hour overnight.
The 39-Tulane line, another new 24-hour route, also had a large spike from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m., an additional 456 riders. On weekends, about 183 riders took advantage of new bus service between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m.
Ridership between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. also increased on the 47-Canal streetcar and 62-Morrison Express lines and slightly on the 88-St. Claude line.
About 1,770 riders hopped on the new 202-Airport Express line, which makes nine daily round trips from Elk Place and Cleveland Avenue to the airport, with a stop at Union Passenger Terminal. Though that line may be used by anyone headed to or from the airport, it is largely aimed at those who are building the airport’s new north terminal, which is expected to be complete in 2018.
If it proves popular, officials could continue the line and focus it more on airline passengers, the RTA has said.
Alex Posorske of Ride New Orleans, a nonprofit transit advocacy group that has praised the service changes, said the data, though limited, were promising.
“I think you’ve got your initial evidence right there for how much riders want this” additional service, he said.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.