Record breaking crowds are expected this weekend for the 30th annual French Quarter Festival. Tens of thousands of people will be getting to the fest by ferry, possibly for the last time this year.
Absent a private operator to take over the ferries or some government subsidy, the boats will stop running at the end of June.
Friday afternoon, festival goers lined up to ride the Canal Street/Algiers Ferry. They hope the state finds a way to keep the boats.
"It's a lot easier to catch the ferry," said Sherry Templet. "We don't have to worry about finding parking on that side of the river. There's less traffic. We love it. We take our grand kids to take a ride across the ferry."
"The primary reason that we cross it, it's so close to everything," said Alfred D'Aquin. "We could have taken the bridge and crossed over. By the time you find a parking spot you're closer this way just walking by the Aquarium into the French Quarter."
"We've been here like four or five years ago and we rode it several times," said Tom McKnight a visitor from southern California. "I think it's nice because we don't have to walk so far and we don't have to fool around with the parking."
A non-profit called Ride New Orleans interviewed about 2,000 ferry riders this week.
The group found it's not just tourists using the ferries.
"Many people who are riding the ferries are using them to get to and from work," said Ride NOLA Executive Director Rachel Heiligman. "We saw numerous hospitality employees using the ferry to access their jobs."
Heiligman hopes to use the results of the survey to rally public support for the ferries.
"If the ferries are to stop service or service is disrupted, there's going to be a major impact felt immediately and it may be difficult to get that service back up and running if a solution is found down the road," she said.
The state only budgeted enough money to operate the ferries another three months.
City Council member Kristen Palmer says losing the boats would be a hardship on people in her Westbank district.
"If these ferries go away, their going to go on an already congested bridge," said Palmer. "They're going to move. It's going to create blight. They're not going to have access to jobs."
Palmer is working with state and local leaders to find enough money to keep the ferries going until the end of the year. She hopes the state will find a permanent source of funding between now and then.
"If you want to talk just about French Quarter fest, over 60,000 people alone were riding the ferries everyday during that period of time," said Palmer. "But, what about our hospitality workers? What about our people who work downtown? What about everyday users? At some point will this city and state wake up and say people actually live here and it's not just for visitors."
Last year the state put out a Request for Proposal for a private operator willing to take over the ferry operation. There were no takers.
The state has no immediate plans to send out a new RFP before ferry operations stop at the end of June.