NEW ORLEANS - New Orleans Regional Transit Authority Chair Barbara Major opened Tuesday's board meeting with a brief statement about the future of the Algiers-Canal Street Ferry.
"The Regional Transit Authority hopes that the ferry service will be continued," she said. "But, to put it simply, ferry service is not a part of the Regional Transit Authority's primary mission."
But, Major stated that Veolia, the private transit company that runs the buses and streetcars for the RTA is interested in the job.
"In spite of the fact the ferry service is outside the Regional Transit Authority's mission, as well as its funding capacity, we would support an agreement between the Regional Transit Authority, Veolia and the state to continue the ferry service."
Veolia Vice President Justin Augustine says his firm and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development are still crunching the numbers.
"Ferries are a business," said Augustine. "In order for a business to be successful, the revenue and expenses have to at least equal. Veolia can't take a loss.
Augustine says right now, there's a difference in the revenue stream and the expense base and that difference has to made up with some sort of passenger fare.
"Very soon, we'll come up with a strategy that says fares have to be 'X' and then that would close that gap, or that delta and that particular point in time," said Augustine. "If the general public accepts that, then the ferry services can begin operations."
DOTD has agreed to run the ferries on an interim basis beginning July 1.
Ferry advocates worry about the possible implications of long, drawn out negotiations with Veolia.
"We're concerned that the state may not keep the service running while it take the time it's going to take for this deal to play out," said Rachel Heiligman, RideNOLA Executive Director.
Veolia says best case scenario, the company could be running the boats by late fall.
"Things are still progressing," said Augustine. "From the start we said 90 days from July 1 and would basically submit all our respective plans and we're still on schedule to meet all our expected deliverables. One would think probably by the end of the fall period of this year, if we can negotiate everything in good faith and get the numbers to work, agreements to be signed, we can begin operations. We're really going to work quickly to make this happen."
Beginning next month the Algiers Ferry's hours of operation will shrink to 12 hours a day, 7am to 7pm Monday through Friday and 8 hours a day on the weekend.
The Gretna Ferry will shut down.
Service will continue as is on the Chalmette Ferry.