NEW ORLEANS -- Right now, tolls on the Crescent City Connection bridge subsidize the ferry operation in the New Orleans area.
By law, even though voters extended the tolls for another 20 years, beginning Jan. 1, none of the money can go to the ferries. The state's solution is to privatize the service.
But, the deadline to answer the state's request for proposal expired yesterday with no takers.
"We put out an RFP, there were no takers," said state Sen. David Heitmeier, D-Algiers. "So, we need to do something different. Just like the Saints on their first four games. They had to do something different. We were pretty happy with the results this weekend."
Fay Faron from the group "Friends of the Ferry" said the state needs to come up with a better sales pitch.
"It isn't like I didn't see it coming because I don't the DOTD has the concept of what this can become," said Faron. "That it really can be a money maker. It can be like the street cars that people come to New Orleans to ride the ferries. Somebody needs that mindset in order to do it."
Here's the problem the state is only offering an $800,000 subsidy and $1.1-million in fare revenue per year to run the ferries.
Heitmeier admits that's $700,000 short of the ferry's current operating budget.
"As we know, most ferries operate at a loss and they require subsidies, so we're also looking at additional grants right now, that may be out there to keep the Algiers-Canal Street ferry operating," said Heitmeier.
The state is also putting together the money to buy new, more fuel efficient boats.
Local lawmakers are also hoping to draw down federal mass transit dollars to help off set the cost of the ferry operation.
State Rep. Bryan Adams, R-Gretna, said the the state legislature may be able to fashion a more lucrative deal for a ferry operator.
"Look at it, gee whiz, you know the ferry landings could have a restaurant in them and get new boats and really make it part of the transportation system for the whole region," said Adams. "We're going to work on it. We are going to do what we can to save them."
"My hope is that we would be able to take the Gretna ferry and have it run weekends and special events and then the Canal Street ferry could operate, but we may have to tweak the timing as funding will allow," said Heitmeier.
"The ferry has 1.2 million users per year," said Faron. "You're not going to take all those people and say you can't go to work anymore. You've got to go on welfare. You got to get on the bridge. You just can't do it."
Local lawmakers hope to revisit the ferry proposal next year in Baton Rouge.
But, the state only has the money to keep the ferries going until lawmakers go into session in the spring.
A DOTD spokesperson issued the following statement:
"No proposals were received in relation to the effort to privatize Crescent City Connection ferries. DOTD remains committed to maintaining the Chalmette ferry service and will continue to explore all possible options for other ferry services previously operated by CCCD."