Unpopular NOLA transit changes underserve local commuters

Only 11 percent of adults take public transportation on a daily or weekly basis, according to the Pew Research Center. Public transportation is notoriously bad. This is a major issue in New Orleans, a city where only about 19 percent of residents have access to a car. Access to public transportation is a necessity, as poor transportation worsens inequality. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority must recognize this fact, and they must not shift their focus to tourism.

This March, NORTA appointed a new executive director, leading to questions about the appointee’s past. While Executive Director Greg Cook has myriad experience as a transit manager, people are concerned with an alleged incident from his tenure as a transit executive in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Cook allegedly charged an airline ticket to an Ann Arbor Transportation Authority credit card but did not pay it back.

There is no evidence definitively condemning Cook, yet the murkiness of the situation has nonetheless increased tensions between NORTA and local commuters. A group of hospitality workers protested a NORTA board meeting on March 28, demanding more nighttime transportation to New Orleans East. A NORTA representative denied the protesters’ claims of three-hour bus rides after midnight and several-hour waits at bus stops. The response didn’t directly address the protesters’ concerns and Lita Farquhar, one of the workers, called for a public meeting.

Tension between locals and NORTA is no new issue. Only 7.1 percent of commuters took public transport in 2013, down from 13.2 percent in 2000, and NORTA still has not recovered its pre-Katrina count of buses. Bus routes tend to stop in more residential areas, while the streetcars travel to more tourist-heavy sites.

This fact is especially reflected in the growth of streetcar use. Streetcar use has grown to 103 percent of its pre-Katrina service, while bus use has decreased to 35 percent of its pre-Hurricane Katrina service. Restricted bus lines further bolster streetcar use, despite the fact that it may inconvenience commuters overall. Recent construction on Uptown streetcar lines specifically targeted tourists.

All of this is further cast into uncertainty with President Donald Trump’s recent budget proposal. Trump aims to remove the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program signed into effect by former President Barack Obama. This grant was used for the Loyola Avenue streetcar and the Canal Street ferry terminal, among other projects. Without the TIGER grant, NORTA will face budget cuts of its own. This only reinforces the necessity for NORTA to focus on its own workers, who are the ones ultimately responsible for maintaining the tourism industry in New Orleans. Protecting them should be the transit authority’s first priority.

Festivalgoers this weekend are greatly encouraged to use public transit and ferry services. When you’re sitting on the street car on your way to French Quarter Festival, be sure to remember all of the mess that sits underneath that pretty green paint.

This is an opinion article and does not reflect the views of The Hullabaloo. Kathryne LeBell is a senior at Newcomb-Tulane College. They can be reached at [email protected].

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