Funding issues cut service of 2 ferries

In a move that could affect hundreds of residents who commute between the West Bank and downtown New Orleans, the Gretna ferry will be shut down and the Canal Street to Algiers ferry will see its hours cut by a third under a plan to deal with reduced funding for the services after June 30.

That plan is intended to serve as a stop-gap while the Regional Transit Authority, which was given the authority to take over the ferries under law passed this session, comes up with a long-term operations plan. However, the authority is not expected to put forward a proposal until this fall, according to the state Department of Transportation and Development.

The reductions in service will not affect the Chalmette ferry, which is being kept on as a fully-funded state route under legislation signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal earlier this week. Those using that service would have to drive more than 18 miles to use an alternative route while the Canal Street ferries can be bypassed with a 6.5-mile detour for drivers, according to the state transportation department.

The funding for all state-operated ferries was thrown into disarray last year during legislative battles over the extension of the Crescent City Connection tolls, which pays for part of their operational costs. The ferries were separated from CCC funding as part of the deal that put the extension before the voters, who ultimately rejected extending the tolls in May. Initially, lawmakers counted on the privatization of the ferries, though no interested companies responded to the transportation department’s request for proposals.

Under the new schedule, the Algiers ferry will run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and for eight hours on Saturdays and Sundays. The transportation department will evaluate the schedule, developed with the Regional Planning Commission and local elected officials, and make adjustments if necessary to accommodate changes in “funding and ridership levels,” according to a statement.

The Algiers ferry now provides service every half-hour from 6 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. The transportation department’s announcement did not say whether the frequency of service would be diminished under the new schedule.

The Gretna ferry, which has been out of service for months due to staffing shortages, will not provide any service under the transportation department’s proposal. State officials have said they hope that once the RTA takes over the ferries, the Gretna ferry would be brought back into some form of service, even if only for special events.

The potential takeover of the ferries and the revised schedules are the result of legislation aimed at keeping them running for the coming years as the funds to transition them away from the CCC tolls run out. Those measures provide $4 million for the funding of the Chalmette ferry and $1.5 million a year for the next two years to keep the Canal Street ferries running while RTA comes up with a proposal.