RTA takes first steps in considering new fares for Algiers and Chalmette ferries

The Regional Transit Authority board will officially consider a proposal for a $2 one-way fare for pedestrians on the Algiers-Canal Street and Chalmette ferries in early August alongside other increases in costs for riders who use the system.

The proposal is the first step in a plan being crafted by Veolia, the private company that runs the day-to-day operations of RTA, as part of a takeover of two ferries from the state.

The RTA board received the proposal and set an initial public meeting on the fare structure without comment at a Thursday meeting. At the same time, a group of about a dozen transit and ferry advocates called on the board to restore the ferries to their traditional hours and raised concerns about the size of the increase the company is seeking.

“It’s an incredibly important linkage,” Ride New Orleans Executive Director Rachel Heiligman said. She later added, “We want to make sure that when service does transfer to the RTA it is sustainable.”

The first meeting on the proposed fare increase will come at 5 p.m. Aug. 5 in the New Orleans City Council Chambers, when the RTA board will take public comment on the plan. The board will decide at a later meeting whether to ask the City Council, which has the final say in the matter, for its approval.

The proposal by Veolia amounts to a nearly across-the-board increase for all pedestrians and motorists who use the ferries. Pedestrians, who now pay nothing to ride across the river, will pay $2 each way, though senior citizens, the disabled and those on Medicaid will pay half that. Day passes will be available for $5 and monthly passes will be available for $75.

The charge for vehicles will double to $2, with additional charges imposed for passengers other than the driver and for vehicles with trailers.

The groundwork for the takeover was laid last year, when legislation authorizing a referendum on the extension of tolls on the Crescent City Connection divorced the ferries from the bridge, which provided their traditional funding source.

Plans to privatize the system failed when no companies expressed interest in the ferries, prompting legislators to come back this year with temporary funding and a law allowing RTA to step in and run them.

Negotiations between Veolia and the Department of Transportation and Development are ongoing and a full transition plan is expected by the beginning of September.

Several Algiers residents called on the board to support the ferries during the meeting, including Hillary Moise, owner of Bed and Breakfast on the Point. Moise said she’s already had guests cancel their reservations because of the reduced ferry hours put in place during the transition.

Moise said the situation reminded her of a previous reduction in ferry hours in the 1980s, when she was running a restaurant in Algiers Point. After years of dealing with the reduced hours — and frequently offering rides to customers caught on the West Bank — the shorter hours eventually led her to close down the business.

“There’s a terrible feeling in Algiers Point right now, which is fear,” Moise said. “People are talking about moving, selling their homes.”

Still, others warned that too high a fare would overly burden many of the residents that use the boats to travel from their homes in Algiers to jobs in downtown New Orleans.

“It needs to be affordable so that everybody who needs to get across the river can get across the river,” said Friends of the Ferry President Fay Faron.