Transportation nonprofit warns of ‘major’ impacts if Algiers ferry service is lost

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ -- The Algiers Ferry heads to Canal Street. A recent survey by a local transportation nonprofit found that the service was lost,  it would have a major impact on people who work for the tourism and service industries.. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ -- The Algiers Ferry heads to Canal Street. A recent survey by a local transportation nonprofit found that the service was lost, it would have a major impact on people who work for the tourism and service industries..

Survey: Riders’ options limited

A recent survey by a local transportation nonprofit found that the loss of the Algiers-Canal Street ferry would have “major” impacts on the metro area, particularly for people who work in the tourism and service industries.

Ride New Orleans spoke with 1,575 individuals who ride the ferry. About half of those people who ride the ferry each day use it to get to and from work. Many of those people work in the hospitality and tourism industry, and 38 percent of those people do not have access to a personal vehicle, according to the Ride New Orleans survey.

But the ferry option could be nearing its end in July, since its funding will end then.

The state Legislature last year voted to separate the Gretna, Algiers and Lower Algiers ferries from their previous funding source: Crescent City Connection bridge tolls. No other source of funding has been identified, and efforts to privatize the ferries has been unsuccessful.

Rachel Heiligman, Ride New Orleans’ executive director, said her group’s survey found that more than half the ferry riders said they would either have a “very difficult time” getting to work or would be unable to get to work if the ferry service is cut.

Heiligman noted that the Regional Transit Authority provides bus service across the river from Algiers to the Central Business District. But, she said, riders from Algiers and other parts of the West Bank would face a longer commute and fewer choices since they would now be required to transfer between a bus and a streetcar and would only have access to two buses crossing the river after 10 p.m.

Right now the Algiers-Canal ferry offers five-minute trips across the river every half hour until 1 a.m.

The survey found that 68 percent of ferry riders would be willing to pay a fare if that would help keep the ferry running.

Right now the only passengers who pay for the service are those who use it to get their vehicles across the river. That fare is $1.

“Introducing a fare has significant potential to raise revenues to support continued ferry operations,” Heiligman said. “A fare of $1.25 for all ferry riders — consistent with RTA’s bus and streetcar fares — could generate $1.6 million annually.”

That amount, she said, could cover close to half of the $4 million cost of operating and maintaining the Algiers-Canal Street ferry.

The New Orleans Regional Planning Commission in February became responsible for oversight of the Gretna and Algiers ferries. The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development will continue to fund the Lower Algiers-Chalmette ferry since it believes there should be a bridge there.

The DOTD has said the Gretna ferry will cease operating July 1, and the Algiers Point ferry will see service cuts at the same time due to the lack of funding to continue operations as usual.

RPC Executive Director Walter Brooks has said increased fares for vehicles and new fares for pedestrians could be in the Canal and Gretna ferries’ futures in an effort to lessen or prevent cuts.

An RPC committee has been formed to try to find a solution to the problem, but it was not immediately clear on Monday if that group has devised any plans.

This story was altered on May 7, 2013