The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority’s largest new transit infrastructure investment since Hurricane Katrina — its North Rampart streetcar line — actually reduced convenient access to jobs in nearby areas, according to a new report.
The report was released by RIDE New Orleans, a transit advocacy group that has long argued that the RTA should prioritize buses, which carry almost exclusively local riders, over the more picturesque streetcars, which appeal to tourists.
The report found that residents along the North Rampart Street and St. Claude Avenue corridor lost the ability to get to more than 1,000 jobs in a half-hour or less after the new streetcar came online and some bus routes in the corridor were moved or made less frequent to make way for it.
After a quarter-century of planning, fundraising and debating, the wait is over.
By contrast, the group said, the RTA’s 2016 decision to once again have the 28-Martin Luther King and 15-Freret bus lines continue to Canal Street — rather than ending at the Union Passenger Terminal, as occurred when the Loyola Avenue streetcar line started operating between the terminal and Canal Street in 2013 — restored convenient access to nearly 5,500 jobs, and at almost no cost.
RIDE said it analyzed U.S. census data, transit wait times and available jobs in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes to reach its conclusions.
The report presents what is arguably RIDE’s strongest argument yet that the RTA needs to invest more in buses rather than streetcars if the agency’s goal, as it has said, is to connect residents to jobs.
“We’ve got this fairly common-sense, basically no-cost move, that significantly increased access to jobs for people along those corridors, and this widely publicized and heralded, huge capital project that did nothing to increase connectivity,” said Alex Posorske, RIDE’s executive director.
A spokeswoman for RTA, asked for comment, pointed to the RTA’s long-term strategic planning process that is due to conclude at the end of this year. Officials involved in that work have said that one of their goals is to help residents connect to jobs in the region.
The average New Orleans resident who depends on public transit can reach just 11 percent of …
RIDE has released reports on the state of public transit in New Orleans for the past four years.
While the new report chides the RTA’s spending decisions, it praises the agency for the strategic planning process and for modernizing its vehicle fleet.
It further lauds the RTA’s hiring of a new executive director, veteran transit manager Greg Cook, and the RTA board’s return to the practice of holding public committee meetings, in addition to its regular public board meetings.
Both steps provide for increased public control of the privately managed agency, which is run by French transit conglomerate Transdev, RIDE said.
That said, the report essentially warns that the devil is in the details when it comes to the new strategic plan. It says an ideal final plan would look at whether the RTA’s entire system of interconnected routes needs to be reconfigured to meet changes in the distribution of jobs and where people live in the region.
The strategic plan should provide more regional connectivity and make the transit system attractive enough to residents that it can meet Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s stated goal of having half of all city trips made without the use of cars by 2030, the report said.
It said the RTA should work to ensure that 80 percent of the region's population can reach most jobs within 30 minutes by transit within 10 years.
RIDE also assesses the agency's finances and a question the RTA itself has long pondered: whether its basic fare of $1.25 per ride, which hasn’t changed since 1999, is too low.
In 2013, RTA General Manager and Transdev Vice President Justin Augustine said the system’s future survival and long-term profitability depended on a fare increase. Such talk has died down since then, but Transdev earlier this year hired a firm to consider how much the RTA should be charging for a regional day pass, work that could affect future discussions about how much of an overall fare increase riders can absorb.
Any fare increase, however, would need to be accompanied by a clear benefit to riders, Posorske said. He said the agency might also look at other cities that have raised general fares but offered low-income residents a reduced fare option.
“We did a survey of riders back in March, and we focused on the regional day pass,” Posorske said. “Ninety percent of riders said they would pay more if they had better regional connections.”