For years, public transit agencies in and around New Orleans have made piecemeal adjustments to bus routes, adding a line here or rerouting another one there, without much thought as to how well the entire system connects most riders to school or work.

Now, officials with the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority and Jefferson Transit say they are looking to change that.

Their goal is an analysis of the regional transit system that could result in redesigned routes or other changes in the next few years to more efficiently move commuters and other riders from where they live to where they want to go.

“We’re not looking at futuristic, pie-in-the-sky type of service, but service that can be implemented in the next year or two or three, that we will be able to use to benefit riders in the community as a whole,” said Tim Reynolds of WSP USA, a consulting firm hired by the Regional Planning Commission to manage the study.

The RPC, which oversees transit and other planning across eight area parishes, is working with the RTA and Jefferson Transit on the review. 

Officials say it could lead to more transit lines connecting Orleans and Jefferson parishes in addition to changes to routes within each parish.

The study is expected to be completed in 2020.

For years, the RTA and other transit agencies across the region have faced criticism from some riders and transit advocates. Among the complaints are a lack of connections between parishes, some routes that cater to tourists rather than commuters, and long wait times or meandering routes that turn cross-city trips into hourslong journeys.

Jonathan Temple, 32, a construction worker, said he’d be glad for any change that would speed his commute from the Little Woods neighborhood in New Orleans East to his job in the Central Business District during the week.

Years ago, a Paris Road line took riders from his neighborhood to Canal Street in the CBD. Now, he relies on the Morrison Road line, which covers a broader area of the East before making the trek to Canal and makes his commute longer in the mornings and evenings. 

“If I have to be to work for 7, I have to get up for at least 4 a.m.,” he said Monday as he waited at the bus stop across the street from the Walmart store on Bullard Avenue. “Before Katrina, it took way less time, because there were more buses out here." 

The study's recommendations will aim to put both Orleans and Jefferson parishes in line with a growing number of cities around the country that act in response to shifts in ridership patterns and in the economy, Reynolds told a crowd of at least 50 at University Medical Center on Canal Street last week.

The RPC conducted the last widespread review of bus routes in Orleans and Jefferson parishes in 2012. But that analysis largely did not seek public input about which routes should be changed, said Taslin Alfonzo, a spokeswoman for Transdev, the private firm that runs the RTA’s bus and streetcar operations.

New data based in part on riders' opinions have since shown that riders looking to reach jobs in Elmwood, Metairie and Kenner have been underserved.

Residents also want more reliable connections in all parts of New Orleans and more transit routes along heavily traveled streets, such as ones where there are low-cost grocery stores.

Reynolds’ group will hop on buses, streetcars and ferries in both parishes in the coming months to get even more public input, with the goal of releasing a draft set of recommendations by this fall.

The RTA and Jefferson Transit leaders are expected to approve the final redesign by early next year.

Flozell Daniels, chairman of the RTA board, said riders deserve more lines that cross parish lines.

”We are in the business of getting people to work, school, health appointments, cultural activities and family, and a parish line should not be a barrier for commuters,” he said.

The concept has also earned the support of Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni, who said similar ideas to better link the region’s transit lines have been bandied about for ages. “Now we have to stop talking and actually do,” he said.


Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.