Public transit officials are seeking funding for a rapid bus line that would connect riders in New Orleans East to downtown and the West Bank, one facet of a broader plan to bolster transit service in far-flung city neighborhoods.
The Regional Transit Authority plans to ask the federal government to foot the bill for the new line. Though officials haven't said how much faster they will be trying to move riders downtown, where stations might be, or how much it all may cost, they plan to study those issues over the next year.
New Orleans' bus system has long had "express routes," which make fewer stops, use city highways and transport riders downtown in just under an hour. But the new rapid buses will try to approximate the capacity and speed of a subway system with the affordability of a bus system, officials said.
Rapid buses would be given their own lanes on city streets, so that operators can avoid street congestion. Riders would pay fares and board the new buses from stations that are designed to mimic the rail stations used in other cities. The buses would also make fewer stops, again in a bid to ensure timely arrivals and departures.
Officials say their goal is to encourage more people to ride public buses to work or school. The agency is focusing its efforts on New Orleans East and the West Bank because riders in those areas have long struggled to timely reach their destinations.
"I think this is vital for the survival of the transit system," RTA board member Sharon Wegner said. "We have to come up with something more attractive for those that have to get to work and other places, but that choose to drive a car, because they don't think the bus system is adequate."
The plan is aligned with "New Links," the massive network redesign that the RTA approved earlier this year after a lengthy study. Under that plan, dozens of routes were tweaked to allow more riders to get to their destinations within 20 minutes. The RTA is implementing the changes in piecemeal as funding allows and ridership demands.
In considering so-called "bus-rapid transit," the RTA joins a growing number of public transit agencies across the country that have adopted the service. In 2019, 13 such systems in the U.S. were in operation, double the number from 2010, according to the American Public Transportation Association.
RTA staffers intend to study how best to implement that system over the next year, with the goal of presenting recommendations to the agency's board in August 2022. The study will include cost estimates so that the RTA knows how much federal funding to apply for.