The Algiers Point-Canal Street ferry will expand its weekday operations by more than 20 hours each week starting July 21, officials said Thursday.
The extended hours were announced, along with the start of monthly passes and long-term plans to bring in new vessels, by officials with Veolia Transportation, which runs the ferries for the Regional Transit Authority. They spoke at a gathering of West Bank residents Thursday night.
“It’s important for you to understand how difficult, how extremely difficult, it has been to maintain the ferries on our river,” Veolia Vice President Justin Augustine said.
“But we won’t be daunted by that difficulty.”
Once the new hours go into effect, the Canal Street ferry will run from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday. Currently, its first crossing is at 7:15 a.m. and its last trip starts at 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, the last trip is at 8 p.m.
Weekend hours will remain the same for now, Augustine said.
“We have not stopped looking at the possibility of additional hours during the weekend,” he said.
The RTA also will start offering unlimited monthly passes July 1. The passes will cost $65, will be sold on the ferries and will be good on either the Algiers Point or Chalmette route. Customers will need to pay cash.
The passes will be good for $2 per person per trip, which means drivers taking the Chalmette route may have to pay extra if they have passengers or trailers, which cost money in addition to the basic fare.
The Algiers ferry’s reduced hours went into effect last year after it lost state funding. When Veolia later took over the ferries’ operation through the RTA, it kept that shorter schedule in place.
The reduced hours have been a concern for Algiers Point residents, some of whom said the schedule has not allowed them to make it to the ferry in time to commute back to the West Bank after work. It has also caused concern for businesses and restaurants on the West Bank.
The reduction in hours was even acknowledged as an issue by Augustine during the meeting. When an audience member asked him how he got to the meeting, he responded, “We didn’t have enough hours for me to take the ferry over here.”
Augustine did not say where the money for the additional hours will come from, how long that funding source would last or what would happen to the additional hours if it dries up.
Implementing the new fares has already had a greater than expected effect on ridership.
Ridership has dropped 24 percent on the Algiers Point route since the fares went into effect and 29 percent on the Chalmette route. Veolia had anticipated only a 20 percent drop in ridership when the fares were put into effect, official Mark Major said. It was not clear Thursday whether those losses resulted solely from the fares or took into account the reduced schedule as well.
Former City Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson said privatizing the system and imposing the fares were the only way to keep the ferries going after state lawmakers cut off their traditional funding source, the tolls on the Crescent City Connection. That move was made in anticipation of the election that eventually ended the CCC tolls.
“I’m sorry there has to be a fee, but there was no way to have ferry boats without a fee,” Clarkson said.
There are plans in the works to bring in new ferries to replace the aging vessels on the Algiers Point route, Major said. The company has already negotiated to acquire a ferry from Washington that will be put into service relatively soon, he said. The vessel did not cost anything because it had been purchased with federal transportation dollars but was no longer in use, so the government was willing to transfer it to the state, he said.
“The Federal Transit Administration is gracious with their funds, but they don’t like you to purchase assets and not use them,” Major said.
There are also long-term plans to buy new catamaran vessels, using $16 million in state and federal funds that came along with Veolia’s takeover of the system, he said.
Newer ferries have been seen as a way of reducing operating costs. Lower costs to operate the fleet, which now costs about $600 an hour to run, could in turn lead to additional hours.
Veolia is also looking into a way to quickly provide buses to bring people over the CCC should the ferries break down.
Some concerns from regular ferry riders are unlikely to be addressed immediately. The fare collection system eventually will be upgraded to allow for electronic systems that can provide change to riders, but for now, riders will still need to provide exact change, Augustine said.
He also stated, to groans from many in the audience, that the Algiers Point ferries will remain for passengers only. Ferries capable of carrying vehicles are more expensive to operate.
It’s also unclear whether there will be additional expansions to the schedule to accommodate late-night commuters, though Augustine said the opening of the Riverwalk outlet mall could increase the demand for late-night trips from workers.
Addressing complaints that the ferries are more expensive than the buses and streetcars operated by RTA, Augustine said the fare structure for the other modes of transportation is outdated and will need to be changed soon. “The $1.25 won’t stay like that,” he said, referring to the cost of riding the bus or streetcar.