LA Swift bus service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge to end July 31

Advocate Staff Photo by Eliot Kamenitz ---- Passengers wait to board a June afternoon Baton Rouge bound La Swift, the $5 one way, federally funded bus service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that is currently slated to end July 30, unless a coalition of groups can get together and raise the funds needed to keep the service going. Show caption
Advocate Staff Photo by Eliot Kamenitz ---- Passengers wait to board a June afternoon Baton Rouge bound La Swift, the $5 one way, federally funded bus service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that is currently slated to end July 30, unless a coalition of groups can get together and raise the funds needed to keep the service going.

After nearly two months in limbo, LA Swift, a low-cost bus service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge created to help those displaced by Hurricane Katrina, will cease operations Wednesday, state officials said.

The announcement Friday by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development means efforts by the chambers of commerce in both New Orleans and Baton Rouge and others to prolong the service were for naught.

The bus service is largely funded by a $2.3 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration, but the federal funds hinge on a $750,000 local match.

In June, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development announced it would no longer subsidize the local match, sending regional advocates — such as GNO Inc., the Center for Planning Excellence and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber — scurrying to try to find replacement funds to continue the service. The proposal they came up with, which included both direct and in-kind contributions, was submitted to the Federal Transit Administration and harshly rebuffed.

“The LADOTD and the state of Louisiana has had three full years to plan and budget for the continuation of the LA Swift service beyond the end of this month,” FTA Regional Administrator Robert C. Patrick wrote in a letter to the state transportation secretary. “Instead, the LADOTD submitted... a funding plan for review containing questionable matching arrangements just two weeks before the LA Swift service was scheduled to terminate.”

Some of the proposals were “impermissible,” Patrick added.

Other questionable arrangements included donations of services by Hotard Coaches, which operates the LA Swift service under a contract with the state. If Hotard was permitted to donate, then later compete for other state transportation projects, it could violate bid laws, Patrick wrote.

Other ineligible items included the offer of a reduced cost parking space at the Capital Area Transit System terminal in Baton Rouge and others.

In a statement, Baton Rouge Area Chamber President Adam Knapp pledged to continue to work to restart LA Swift, saying July 31 was the last day “for the time being.”

State officials originally said the service would cease June 30 but a public outcry led to a one-month extension. MiLisa York, who rides the service from Baton Rouge to her job in New Orleans, started a Facebook page and a posted a petition on the website Change.org. As of Friday, the petition had 1,064 signatures. LA Swift began offering rides between the state’s two largest cities Oct. 31, 2005. Approximately 10,000 riders per month use the service, which is frequented by commuters, those traveling for doctors’ appointments and those visiting family and friends.