NEW ORLEANS -- Fixing the city's disorganized transit hub has been on the agenda for years, but other projects, like the new Loyola Avenue streetcar, have gotten the green light instead.
The advocacy group Ride New Orleans says the transit hub can't wait any longer.
“We have 5,000 to 7,000 passengers out here every single day, making their connections with little protection from the elements, shade from the rain, from the extreme sun during the summer time,” said Rachel Heiligman, executive director of Ride New Orleans.
The area between Canal Street and Tulane Avenue and from Rampart Street to Loyola Avenue is a mishmash of 40 bus and streetcar lines.
Ride New Orleans surveyed 200 passengers while they waited in that corridor, and they complained about everything from long transfer wait times to high crime. (See report)
“It's a crowd. You don't even want to go over there and actually deal with it because you be afraid,” said Miguel Munez, a public transit rider.
Ride New Orleans found 28 percent of riders surveyed reported waiting 30 minutes to an hour for their transfer. “Unfortunately, wait time is something we have to deal with, but what have we done for that? We've developed technology called our ‘Next Bus’ technology, our SMS texting where our passengers can basically text off their phones to find out when the next bus will show up for arrival,” said Justin Augustine, vice president of Veolia Transportation.
Similarly, the RTA has the technology to put electronic signs at the transit hub to tell riders how long until their bus arrives, Heiligman said.
At transfer area E, as it gets busy later in the day, there are only six seats for people to use while they wait for their transfers. In this whole one-third mile stretch, there are only 30 total seats.
“We all have recognized the need that we have to deal with the overcrowding situations we have at bus stops downtown, and working with the city, with Ride New Orleans, with any advocacy group, we feel very, very comfortable that we will identify a permanent solution,” said Justin Augustine, vice president of Veolia Transportation.
Ride New Orleans says the city deserves a true transit hub on par with those in far smaller southern cities, like Lafayette or Little Rock. The RTA is considering six possible locations downtown.
Augustine's favorite would be to re-construct the facade of the old Southern Railway terminal, which used to sit where the Simon Bolivar statue is in the Basin Street neutral ground, but the price tag is anybody's guess.
“It would be better if they do it like that: have the electric signs, have more seats, and have some protection,” Muniz said.
In the short-term, the RTA is ready to install 20 new benches at Elk Place to at least provide more seating.
Augustine says the 20 new benches will cost $16,000. RTA Board Chairman Sal Longoria says once approved, the benches will be installed within 120 days.