Streetcar service booms post-Katrina, while bus service lacks

NEW ORLEANS -- Looking at state of public transportation in the 10 years since Hurricane Katrina, the recovery has been "uneven" with an emphasis on costly streetcars rather the bus system, found a study by Ride New Orleans, a public transportation advocacy group, concluding, "Streetcars are the clear winner of New Orleans' transit recovery."

The study comes as workers are laying the rails for a new streetcar line that will run down Rampart Street and St. Claude Avenue.

"Following Katrina, streetcars have risen to a new level of prominence, commanding a significantly larger share of NORTA's operating expenses," said the study. "In fact, NORTA has fully restored pre-Katrina levels of streetcar service, but just 35% of bus service. Given that existing streetcar lines serve only select neighborhoods, this uneven recovery has left many neighborhoods across the city with poor-quality transportation choices."

Perhaps most telling is wait times for rides. The study determined the streetcar lines provided service every 17 minutes during peak hours, while bus riders waited twice as long at 38 minutes.

A lack of funds partly explains decline in service as NORTA reported operating funds of $143 million in 2004. The operating funds shrunk to $88 million in 2013 -- nearly $55 million less.

Despite the city regaining nearly 80 percent of the pre-Katrina population, the study found that only 45 percent of public transportation service has returned to the city. "Pre-Katrina, NORTA buses and streetcars made more than 17,000 trips each week. By 2015, that number had fallen by more than 11,000 to just 7,813. This represents a 55% decline in available transit service," said the study.

That decline in service was almost across the board, as all but one neighborhood -- Black Pearl in the Carrollton area -- saw service diminished. And neighborhoods that were the hardest hit by the storm, places like New Orleans East and the Lower 9th Ward, saw services decline from 20 to 40 percent.

But while service is down, one area -- streetcars -- have completely rebounded since the storm, and are, in fact, better than ever post-Katrina.

"With the addition of the Loyola – Union Passenger Terminal streetcar line in January 2013, NORTA is now offering more (103%) of weekly streetcar trips than were offered in 2005. However, even with recent service additions, only 35% of weekly bus trips have been restored, leaving New Orleanians in the many neighborhoods not serve by streetcar routes, with reduced transit availability," said the study.


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