Truncated Freret bus line criticized as New Orleans grows streetcars instead

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The Rising Tide X transportation panel: Dan Favre of Bike Easy, Jeff Januszek of Fix My Streets, Rachel Heiligman of Ride New Orleans, and resident Amanda Soprano. (Robert Morris,

The Rising Tide X transportation panel: Dan Favre of Bike Easy, Jeff Januszek of Fix My Streets, Rachel Heiligman of Ride New Orleans, and resident Amanda Soprano. (Robert Morris,

A map of the current Freret bus line (via

A map of the current Freret bus line (via

After the new Loyola Avenue streetcar opened in 2013 just before the Super Bowl, the Regional Transit Authority clipped the end of the popular “Freret jet” bus line — in what public-transit activists describe as a prime example of the city’s increasing post-Katrina emphasis on transportation for tourists rather than residents.

Prior to the Loyola streetcar opening, the Freret and Martin Luther King bus lines were among the most direct lines running from Uptown to Canal Street. Now, however, the line stops at the Union Passenger Terminal just past the Pontchartrain Expressway, and riders who wish to continue on must wait for the streetcar to arrive, then pay 25 cents to transfer.

Consequently, ridership has decreased on the Freret bus line 42 percent “immediately,” said Rachel Heiligman of RIDE New Orleans, at last weekend’s Rising Tide conference. Some of those riders may now be going to the Claiborne line, she said.

“The bus is just no longer as useful to riders as it used to be,” Heiligman said.

The change, Heiligman said, reflects the widening gap between streetcar and bus-line recovery in the city where 19 percent of residents don’t have access to a car. In terms of daily public-transportation trips, the city has only restored 45 percent of service since Hurricane Katrina. But streetcar service has grown to 103 percent of its former trips, while bus service has decreased to 35 percent of its former status.

“Streetcar expansion has certainly emerged as the big transit priority for the Regional Transit Authority,” Heiligman said, noting that a new North Rampart line is now under construction. “We have more streetcar trips being offered today than we did pre-Katrina, but we have just about a third of our bus trips.”

Amanda Soprano, a resident who described herself as dependent on public transportation, said she feels that the reduction in the two bus lines was specifically to boost ridership of the new streetcar, in spite of its inconvenience for riders.

“Their main goal from my perspective was just to make the Loyola streetcar look like it was worth the money they spent on it,” Soprano said.

Soprano, who lives in Hollygrove, said the long waits for the bus make even a simple trip to Walmart on Tchoupitoulas an entire day’s ordeal.

“I ride RTA every day of my life, and it’s emotionally and physically and psychically exhausting,” Soprano said, noting that she sometimes now spends the money for a much more expensive ride in an Uber car instead.

Heiligman said Soprano’s complaints illustrate the problems with the long waits between buses — it makes the service almost impractical for residents to use at all.

“I always say frequency is freedom,” Heiligman said. “The more frequent that your bus is coming, the easier it gets to use. So if you’re waiting 45 minutes for a bus to connect to another bus that also has a 45-minute wait, you’re in for a very long day of riding transit.”

A representative of the bus riders’ union said that the reductions in service cannot entirely be blamed on the city, as state funding for public transportation has fallen in recent years.

“State funding for transit here is abominable,” the union representative said during the panel discussion.

The service changes are overseen by a board of RTA commissioners, chosen by the mayor and City Council. The buses are actually operated by a private contractor — creating a misperception that the decision-makers are not publicly accountable — but Heiligman stressed that the RTA board meets in public and must take comment on every vote it takes.

The RTA board usually meets at 10 a.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month at the RTA Facility at 2817 Canal Street. Heiligman said those meetings are the best way to influence public-transportation policy.

While bus service was a primary topic during the Rising Tide X transportation panel moderated by New Orleans writer Megan Braden-Perry, two other activists spoke about different aspects of getting around the city.

  • Jeff Januszek of Fix My Streets described his concern that there is no long-term plan to repair the city’s streets.
  • Dan Favre of Bike Easy praised the new Lafitte Greenway as “one of the crown jewels of the bicycle infrastructure in our city,” but lamented the deaths of five bicyclists so far this year on the streets of New Orleans.

To watch the entire panel, see the video below:

Rising Tide X – Transportation Panel from Jason Berry on Vimeo.

10 thoughts on “Truncated Freret bus line criticized as New Orleans grows streetcars instead

  1. I don’t think the Freret change had anything to do with tourism. The city was going to build the useless spur to the Train terminal no matter what. Freret was necessary to try to make some people ride the useless boondoogle so that there would be some ridership to justify the project. The same thing is happening on Rampart, people will have to debus to get on the Rampart spur to get the rest of the way to Canal Street. When federal dollars are available we will spend them even if they are being wasted. Look at the new airport at the same location with essentially the same number of gates. Sheer stupid waste. .

  2. The pain Freret line riders are feeling is only going to spread. I already feel for the St. Claude (#88) riders for when the useless N. Rampart streetcar comes online. There is no doubt RTA will cut St. Claude’s line off at Elysian Fields and make all those locals have to transfer to get to Canal St. If I were them, I’d get ahead of this and be in those RTA meetings every time they have to one to prevent the castration of that line as well.

  3. I can’t quite understand why Veolia and NORTA won’t institute a tiered-fare system like most other major transit system in the country. There should be a somewhat significantly higher fare for cash fares and daily passes (which directly affects tourists), with discounted fares and daily passes available through a re-loadable card that are available only to residents. Such as the below example I devised:

    Cash Fare / Tourist rates
    * Single ride = $2.00 with $0.75 transfers (or $3.00 with $0.75 transfers)
    * One Day unlimited pass = $6.00
    * Three Day unlimited pass = $15.00

    Resident fares via re-loadable card (requires proof of residency to obtain one)
    * Single ride = $1.50 with $0.25 transfers
    * One Day unlimited pass = $3.00
    * 30-day unlimited pass = $50.00

    This fare increase would still be less than most other metropolitan transit fares. And tourists will still ride the streetcar because they still want to ride the “trolley”.

  4. So backward. Major cities are all recognizing the growing need and desire for frequent, dependable mass transit, especially given that younger people are turning away from personal vehicles.

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