Early birds and night owls will have more bus and streetcar options throughout the city starting Sunday, as the Regional Transit Authority rolls out a nearly $5 million annual expansion of its service.
This is the second major service expansion for the RTA in the past two years and, with more than half of the system’s routes seeing improvements, represents the largest expansion the system has seen since 2004.
“When I first came on here, we were still talking about recovery; we were still coming out of the Katrina era,” said RTA board Chairman Salvador Longoria, who has been on the board for five years.
“I think we’re way beyond that, or at least we’re moving beyond that into really providing service that meets the needs of the changing city, the changing demographics of the city, the changing working needs of the city.”
Planners for the transit service are 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 major destinations, such as for students.
The expanded service is aimed at providing more service for those headed to those areas from more far-flung areas, such as New Orleans East.
The service that starts Sunday represents an increase of about 47,000 hours of routes a year. Bus service will increase by about 11 percent and weekend bus service by about 28 percent.
In large part, the improvements are aimed at service and construction workers who need transit options that extend well beyond normal business hours and who have been clamoring for more public transit options.
“We heard from the people who are basically the lifeblood of this city, the people that run the hotels, the casinos, the restaurants,” Longoria said. “We’re listening to their issues and coming up with solutions.”
Those needs underlie the main thrust of the expansion: overnight service that is being added to eight lines.
Since Hurricane Katrina, 24-hour service was limited to the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line, but the new options will provide overnight service on routes touching most areas of the city. Those routes are the No. 39 Tulane, No. 52 St. Bernard-Paris, No. 55 Elysian Fields, No. 63 New Orleans East Owl, No. 84 Galvez, No. 88 St. Claude, No. 94 Broad and No. 114 Gen. de Gaulle-Sullen bus routes, plus the No. 47 Canal-Cemeteries streetcar line.
Beyond the new round-the-clock service on those lines, the RTA is adding early-morning or late-night hours or weekend service on several other routes.
The No. 11 Magazine, No. 62 Morrison Express, No. 101 Algiers Point, No. 102 Gen. Meyer and No. 115 Gen. de Gaulle-Tullis lines will all see additional hours.
In addition, the No. 10 Tchoupitoulas, No. 27 Louisiana and No. 60 Hayne lines will get more weekend service.
“We’re a 24/7 city, but we don’t have a 24/7 transit system,” said Stefan Marks, director of scheduling and service planning for Transdev, the private company that runs the RTA’s operations. “At least, we didn’t until now.”
Many of those lines will also see more frequent service, with shorter waits between buses. Transit advocates have long called for more frequent service to improve the RTA system.
The new expansion will slash some waiting times — the wait between buses on the No. 52 St. Bernard-Paris Avenue route, for example, will be cut in half, from 80 minutes to 40 minutes, between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. — though only a handful of routes will have service frequent enough to make using a schedule unnecessary.
Another key expansion is a new express service from the Central Business District to Louis Armstrong International Airport. Initially, the service will be aimed at those working on building the airport’s new terminal, which is expected to be complete in 2018, though there is the possibility of continuing the line with a focus on passengers if it proves popular. In the meantime, people heading to the airport to catch a flight also can take the line, which will originate at Elk Place and Cleveland Avenue and stop at Union Passenger Terminal before heading to the airport. It will make nine daily round trips.
The service expansions come after years of financial struggles for the RTA, which warned in 2014 that it might burn through its reserves and have to consider fare increases in order to provide any new service. But significant improvements in sales tax collections, which partially fund the authority, allowed for a turnaround.
With the changes going into effect Sunday, the RTA will have added about $10 million in new service in less than two years.
“Post-Katrina, the RTA was in a struggling position just like everyone else, but as the economy got better, our board was able to allocate that sales tax growth into more service,” said Justin Augustine, vice president of Transdev in charge of the local operations.
Detailed information will be available at the RTA’s website, norta.com, and its Rideline, (504) 248-3900. Updated brochures also will be available on buses.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.