Improvements to 23 Lines Represents RTA’s Biggest Service Increase in More than A Decade
by Anitra Brown
Starting April 17, a construction worker that relies on public transportation to get to his job at the North Terminal construction site at Louis Armstrong International Airport can hop on the new Airport Express bus at Elk’s Place and Canal as early at 5:10 a.m. and make it to work in about 25 minutes.
A hospitality worker whose shift at a downtown restaurant or hotel ends well after midnight can get home to Algiers or New Orleans East.
And riders on several routes will see their wait time for buses cut in half with added service and extended hours.
All of these changes and more are a part of a sweeping service enhancement that the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority begins on April 17. The $5 million investment to enhance the impacted routes and services are a part of RTA and its Board of Commissioners’ commitment to speaking to the needs of its customers and the larger New Orleans community, says RTA Board of Commissioners Chairman Salvador G. Longoria.
While work on this set of changes began in earnest about a year ago and culminates with the April 17 start of the Stefan Marks, RTA’s Director of Planning and Scheduling Stefan Marks says, improving service is an “ongoing process”.
“There’s always feedback coming from the board of commissioners and their meetings, feedback from riders at community meetings and from the ride line. We keep this as sort of a master list in our head.”
The service enhancements represent 47,000 additional hours of service, with a 28 percent increase in weekend bus service and 11 percent increase in overall service and a significant increase in the number of 24-hour bus lines. Nine of the improved lines will now run overnight. Prior to the new services, RTA operated only one overnight line—the St. Charles Streetcar.
The increasing overnight service was especially important based on the studies, feedback and comments, says Marks.
“We’re a 24-hour city, and people don’t always have jobs that start and end at traditional times, which is especially true if you work in hospitality or the biomedical center. So we began to look at the needs. How do you get to work if you have to be there at 5 a.m.? How do you get home, if you get off at 2 a.m.?
In all, service on 22 existing lines is being improved, including the following lines: 10-Tchoupitoulas, 11-Magazine, 27-Louisiana, 39-Tulane, 47-Canal Cemeteries Streetcar, 51-St. Bernard/St. Anthony, 52-St. Bernard/Paris Ave., 55-Elysian Fields, 57-Franklin, 60-Hayne, 62-Morrison Express, 63-New Orleans Owl, 64-Lake Forest Express, 65-Read/Crowder Express, 80-Desire/Louisa, 84-Galvez, 88-St.Claude, 94-Broad, 101-Algiers Point, 102-General Meyer, 114-General DeGaulle-Tullis, and 115-General DeGaulle-Sullen.
A summary of the specific changes for each line is available at www.norta.com. In general, they include additional weekend service, added early morning trips, additional bus service added to lines to decrease wait times, extra late night trips, route changes to increase accessibility or additional overnight service. RTA has used street teams, rider alerts to communicate the new changes to customers. Bus routes that are impacted by the enhancements have new schedules, printed in green instead of RTA’s usually purple pamphlets, to bring attention to the changes.
As a part of the comprehensive changes, RTA has also added a new bus line—the 202-Airport Express, which after picking up at Elks and Cleveland and then Union Passenger Terminal makes only three stops—one at Veterans Boulevard and Florida Avenue, the next at Airport North (Boeing Drive) near the site of the airport construction and the final at the Airport Terminal for flight departures.
RTA’s Director of Marketing and Communications Patrice Mercadel says the Airport Express service which focuses on getting workers to the site of the terminal expansion as well as the airport for flight departures was planned after several meeting with construction firms on the project, adding that locals often express concern over service changes and improvements appearing geared to accommodate tourists. These new enhancements indicate that is not the case, she says.
“Here we are 10 years post Katrina and we are looking at a system that is operating 24 hours, with more neighborhood circulation and increased frequency,” says Mercadel. “And that is important in transit-reliant communities. It’s about employment opportunities and connectivity.”