Ride New Orleans hosted its scheduled "day of action" yesterday evening to bring awareness to the lack of infrastructure at what the organization has dubbed the "CBD transit hub": the intersection of Elk Place and Canal Street stretching down toward Lasalle Street. Earlier that day, the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) announced that it would hold a press conference before Ride's day of action. It announced at that press conference that it's working with the city to advance plans for a consolidated transit hub in the CBD.
Rachel Heiligman, Ride's executive director, said the purpose of the day was "to start a coordinated dialogue between transit riders, community members, business leaders and public officials focused on solutions for improving this critical point in our transit system."
I am excited to say that today, we've gotten that conversation off to a strong start," she added.
Ride put out 200 temporary folding chairs with signs posted on each one that read: "This seat reserved for bus riders." Among the problems the bus stops face are lack of signage, seats and protection from the elements. Ride also maintains that the lack of a real transit hub in the CBD, which hosts about 5,000 to 7,000 riders daily, according to numbers provided by the organization, is a wasted economic development opportunity. Ride New Orleans also released its recent report, "Smart Transit for a Strong Economy: Why New Orleans should invest in its CBD Transit Hub" in conjunction with the event. City council members Susan Guidry, Kristin Palmer, LaToya Cantrell and James Grey all showed their support Tuesday, along with Stand with Dignity and the Amalgamated Transit Union Women of Action.
Valerie Jefferson, a bus operator for the Regional Transit Authority, said yesterday that the main problem is "lack of communication between our parties; the RTA and Ride and the city. All four parties need to get together and come up with an agenda, and once you get an agenda you stick to it and don't wait forever. Now everybody out here knows what we need." Jefferson said that for starters, passengers need seats. They also need to feel safer, without such long waits between busses. "Safety is a problem," she explained. "Especially at nighttime. Two or three weeks ago they had a shoot out right out here. The busses, around peak time, do need to run every 10 minutes. Not every 20 minutes. That's too long."
Justin Augustine, the vice president of Veolia Transportation, which services the RTA, attended Ride's day of action and told Gambit that he fully supported the event. "We've been working on a downtown transit center for a couple of years now, and whenever we get the community involved saying yes, we want it, yes we support it, that's a good thing."
Augustine pointed to the neutral ground across Canal Street, the one in the middle of Basin Street, where a bus terminal used to stand. He said that the RTA and the city are working on possibly rebuilding that bus station, though not exactly as it was. "We think we can pull this off," he said, adding that any action depends on a collaboration between the city and business owners in the area.