2014 was the year of public input on public transit, from passengers and advocacy groups voicing their needs for more routes, better infrastructure and more comfortable places to sit while waiting for the bus, to public outrage over the city's continued resistance to allow the car-hailing app Uber to operate in New Orleans.
The Regional Transit Authority (RTA) seemed to listen, creating a Riders' Advisory Committee in February that will go into full effect next year, and responding to cries for a CBD transit hub at the busy intersection at Canal Street and Elks Place, where many bus lines converge. The Riders' Advisory Committee will allow bus, streetcar, ferry and paratransit riders to play an integral role in transit policy, from routes to schedule changes. Ride New Orleans, a local transportation advocacy group, helped lobby for the committee.
In April, Ride also staged a "day of action" to call for basic infrastructure changes at the Canal Street transfer hub, one that serves as the central transfer point for a dozen RTA bus lines but lacks basic amenities like adequate seating and protection from the elements. In response, the RTA announced it would allocate $500,000 for planning a new transit hub at the intersection. It also installed more seats over the summer.
The RTA also rolled out $5 million for new bus services in September, bringing back lines that were put out of commission during Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods in 2005. Those cover the East and West Banks, and a new bus that connects Hollygrove to Gentilly. It also added a Louisa line to bring back bus service to the Desire neighborhood. Ferry hours also were extended; the RTA had taken over the service and reduced its hours in 2013.
There weren't many notable streetcar developments in 2014, but 2015 will bring the groundbreaking of the new North Rampart Street/St. Claude Avenue line, which will travel between Canal Street and Elysian Fields Avenue.
A bike lane on Baronne Street downtown extended the quickly growing bicycle riding infrastructure in New Orleans, following the trend of public discourse related to how we move about the city. Cycling advocacy group Bike Easy, along with Mayor Mitch Landrieu's office, hosted charettes for those involved, while businesses along the CBD street, most notably Rouses Markets, opposed the infrastructure change, arguing it would add unnecessary traffic to an already busy part of town. Rouses and other businesses started a Facebook group called "Businesses on Baronne" to share information about how a bike lane would hurt business and congest the thoroughfare.
The bike lane was striped in November and is the only buffered bike lane in the city.
2014 also saw more than a handful of deaths involved in public transit and alternative transportation. In February, 6-year-old Shaud Wilson was hit by a bus while crossing the street to get to his bus stop; four cyclists were killed by motor vehicles in 2014, and in response Ride and Bike Easy instituted a Vision Zero policy, with a goal of educating the public and improving public infrastructure to aim for zero traffic-related deaths. Vision Zero, which started in Sweden and has been adopted by American cities like Houston, was approved by the New Orleans City Council and will go into effect next year.
After months of debate and postponed decisions, the City Council finally allowed hail-a-cab app Uber to bring its limousine and town car service, Uber Black, into New Orleans. Uber Black uses off-duty luxury car drivers at existing limo and car services to act as taxis. Despite the demand for better public transportation in New Orleans, there's been a lack of Uber Black cars on the streets.
UberX, a ridesharing system that allows ordinary drivers to become makeshift taxis, organized via smartphone, exists in dozens of cities around the world but is still prohibited in New Orleans, though advertisements intended to recruit UberX drivers here are posted on Craigslist and Facebook. Proponents criticized the city for what they called a resistance to accept new technology, but cities around the world are rethinking their allowance of the platform, with Paris set to ban it altogether in 2015. Uber has soured its relationship with American cities, too, including Portland, Oregon (where the service began operating illegally last month) and Miami.
Several local cab companies have talked about adding their own mobile apps to compete with the threat of UberX; United Cab has told its drivers the company will launch an app in early 2015, and an existing app called Curb hails New Orleans Carriage Cabs. Last month, WDSU launched a Transit Tracker app, which developers say tracks buses and streetcars in real time. In 2015, the RTA says it plans to launch a mobile app that will allow riders to see how long the wait is for a particular bus or streetcar in real time. It also promises to introduce mobile ticketing.