The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority has been drawing up a long-term strategic plan for the agency, a wish list that now includes everything from more frequent service to electronic displays that would show whether buses and streetcars are running on schedule.
For the first time Tuesday, agency officials publicly estimated how much all of this would cost if implemented.
The answer: The RTA's annual budget would go from $105 million to $230 million, according to Adelee LeGrand of Transdev, the private French conglomerate that handles the RTA’s daily operations.
That type of growth won't happen overnight, however. The plan, drawn up with input from transit riders, local businesses and others, is supposed to guide the agency over the next two decades. A final version is due in December.
Officials also expect that ridership would double if the envisioned expansion happens, which would help offset some of the extra costs.
Officials gave an update on the planning process at a Tuesday meeting of the board that governs the RTA.
The plan has taken nearly a year to craft. The agency may implement some of the changes fairly quickly, at little cost, while others might take years, officials have said.
Advocacy groups have long urged the RTA to prepare a firm blueprint for expanding public transportation in the city, a call Mayor Mitch Landrieu has recently begun to trumpet and that his appointees to the RTA board have worked to flesh out.
It's not clear which of the proposals would be implemented first, though board member Flozell Daniels suggested that Transdev should make extra express routes serving farther-out neighborhoods like New Orleans East and Algiers a priority.
If the entire plan were implemented, the percentage of area jobs that riders can get to within an hour by transit, now 30 percent, would increase to 45 percent, LeGrand said.
That target is less ambitious than the one frequently held up by the transit advocacy group RIDE New Orleans, which has urged the RTA to set a goal of getting more riders to their jobs within 30 minutes.
A $230 million annual transit budget would put New Orleans just below cities like San Francisco and Chicago and just above cities like Philadelphia and Miami.
“That is where we really want to be, because these cities recognize that transit is a part of their public growth,” LeGrand said. “They understand, and it’s a part of every conversation. That’s the ultimate goal and the ultimate charge.
“To answer the question: Can we do it? Yes, we can.”
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