Dec 14, 2023 - News

New Orleans RTA plans bus changes and ferry cutbacks in 2024

Illustration of hands holding public transit handles, with one being pulled away

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Between a shortage of mechanic staff and buses, plus a budget shortfall, RTA riders will see decreased frequency on more than a dozen bus routes and a limitation of ferry hours in 2024.

Why it matters: The number of local transit riders plummeted at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, but ridership is generally on the rebound in the New Orleans metro area.

How it happened: The planned 2024 cutbacks are years in the making.

  • Typically, transit authorities try to replace buses on a rolling basis instead of buying a new fleet all at once, and federal guidance suggests the lifespan for a bus lasts about 12 years, according to an RTA spokesperson.
  • But in New Orleans, any careful planning went out the window when Hurricane Katrina swept in, and the RTA got 104 new buses between 2008 and 2010 — and "no complete plan" for funding their replacements ever locked into place, the spokesperson tells Axios New Orleans.
  • The RTA got another 31 buses between 2011 and 2013, but none were ordered between 2013 and 2018.
  • In short, by next year, more than half the RTA fleet will be at the end of its useful life.

Meanwhile: A nationwide shortage of diesel mechanics means the RTA is having trouble keeping up maintenance on the buses it does have.

As for the ferry, its budget has been short ever since Crescent City Connection tolls were removed in 2013, and now pandemic-era recovery funds are drying up.

  • That means the RTA faces a $3 million budget shortfall for the ferry, despite a $10 million state appropriation during the last legislative session and $6 million in savings that'll come from retiring one of the Chalmette ferries.
  • The RTA's local sales tax can only be used to fund streetcar and bus service.
Data: American Public Transportation Association; Note: Includes bus, rail, ferry and other modes; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: American Public Transportation Association; Note: Includes bus, rail, ferry and other modes; Chart: Axios Visuals

Worth noting: In Orleans Parish, the share of households without access to a vehicle dropped from 27% to 17% between 2000 and 2022, according to The Data Center, but that's still more than twice the national average.

  • In 2022, 4% of Orleans Parish workers used public transportation to get to their job.

What we're watching: Mayor LaToya Cantrell has "committed to maintaining current ferry service levels in 2024," the RTA spokesman says.

  • But no plans have been released as to how to close the budget gap.

What's next: As planned, RTA riders will see cutbacks begin Jan. 14.

  • Starting that day, the Canal Street-Algiers Point ferry will limit its hours to 9am to 7:30pm, and the #103 bus will extend to the Main Library Hub.
  • The RTA spokesperson didn't yet know whether ferry riders can plan on expanded hours during the height of Mardi Gras.

Go deeper: The RTA is holding public meetings on Thursday and next Monday to talk about the coming changes. See the schedule.

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