In September, Gambit reported that more than a year after local comedian and wheelchair-user Jonah Bascle waged a single-issue mayoral run to bring attention to accessibility on the historic St. Charles streetcar line, the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) had made little progress in addressing the problem. At the time, RTA spokeswoman Patrice Mercadel said the agency had formed a committee to address the problem. When asked for some specifics about the committee — its name, its members, when it held its public meetings, whether those were ever announced, Mercadel demurred.
On Oct. 24, following RTA's monthly board meeting, CEO Justin Augustine III told Gambit that the term "committee" was a misnomer. Rather than a public body that holds public meetings and publishes its agendas, minutes and members publicly, the group that was formed to address the problem was instead an internal research/working/technical group. Augustine said he wasn't sure what to call it, but knew it was headed up by RTA risk manager Marc Popkin.
"They're looking at: What are the issues we have to deal with? What are the obstacles?" Augustine said, citing engineering, road improvements and cost. RTA, he says, wants to get an idea of the size of a St. Charles accessibility project before going to the state or federal government for approval or funding.
The September story also reported RTA's stance that it was prevented from making the improvements because of the line's status as a National Historic Place — an untrue claim, according to the National Register of Historic Places. Then, RTA put the claim on its website, but today the site reads: "The green St. Charles Avenue streetcars that travel the St. Charles Avenue line do not contain accessibility equipment. Modification of these historic streetcars is limited and requires consultation with and the prior approval of the State Historic Preservation Office. RTA makes every effort to provide alternatives for the St. Charles line."
In the meantime, New Orleans wheelchair users have the option of "paratransit," city-operated private buses that provide door-to-door service on an appointment basis with limited hours. But the city's busiest public transportation line remains out of reach for locals and visitors who use wheelchairs. — Charles Maldonado