By MELINDA DESLATTE / Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Supporters of LA Swift have cobbled together a proposal they hope will keep the commuter bus service running between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, relying on a mix of cost reductions and in-kind donations.
The plan was submitted to the Federal Transit Administration this week and provided to The Associated Press by the state Department of Transportation and Development in response to a public records request.
If the administration doesn't agree to the proposal, LA Swift shuts down at the end of the month.
"At a time when we should be expanding transit connectivity between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the elimination of LA Swift service will have devastating impacts for its regular riders and our shared economy," Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez wrote in a letter to the transportation agency.
Federal money for the $2.3 million annual cost of the bus service started in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina is shrinking, leaving a $750,000 funding gap.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration decided against spending state dollars to fill the shortfall, saying the transit system was intended to be temporary to help displaced storm victims. Local elected officials and economic development organizations have been scrambling to pull their own financing proposal together.
The budget plan recommended to the FTA would use in-kind donations of parking and marketing as matching money to draw down the federal funds to keep buses running. LA Swift expenses also would be cut, and fares would be raised $1 each way to make the plan balance.
Adam Knapp, CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, downplayed expectations Friday that the proposal will ensure the commuter service isn't interrupted.
"Everybody wants to be very realistic that this is something that has the potential to work, but we have gotten no indication one way or the other that all the pieces fit in the way that the federal government allows," Knapp said.
He noted that federal officials would have to agree to the in-kind matches included in the proposal as local sources of financing -- and that they'd have to do it in fewer than two weeks to stop any LA Swift disruption.
"I don't have a great deal of confidence, I don't think any of us do, that either of those is a given," he said, adding, "But we're hopeful."
A call to the FTA's regional office in Texas wasn't returned Friday.
The bus service costs $10 for a roundtrip ticket. Stops are in Baton Rouge, Gonzales, Sorrento, LaPlace, Kenner and New Orleans. Operated by the Hotard coach company, the service has become a regular means of transportation for commuters, with 12,000 riders monthly.
"Though it was conceived as a temporary measure to alleviate traffic congestion created by displaced workers post-Katrina, it has flourished into a viable regional link," Jefferson Parish President John Young said in a letter submitted with the funding proposal.
Under the proposal, expenses would drop because businesses involved in providing services to LA Swift would reduce their charges, and other items that had cost money would be donated.
For example, the Capital Area Transit System in Baton Rouge agreed to provide terminal space, ticket printing and security for $50,000 instead of the $111,000 previously charged.
LA Swift also would stop paying $175,000 for advertisements and marketing. Instead, local media outlets would donate TV and radio time and newspaper advertising, and Hotard also agreed to provide marketing.
Meanwhile, other items which have always been donated, like the use of parking space along the bus route, would be considered as an in-kind contribution that counts toward the local match costs needed to draw down the federal transit money.
Management of the bus service would be transferred by Nov. 1 to a local entity that hasn't yet been identified, Knapp said. Once the management shifts, fare costs would increase $1 per trip, raising the cost of a roundtrip ticket to $12.