New Orleans has a habit of neglecting its outlying neighborhoods — whether they be the sprawling eastern New Orleans, still lagging in post-Hurricane Katrina recovery, or Algiers, still 100 percent a part of New Orleans despite some people's misconceptions about the West Bank. At the New Orleans City Council's Transportation Committee meeting July 23, Algiers business owners and residents expressed their firm belief that the city hasn't helped promote Algiers Point. They have a good, um, point. Historic Algiers not only suffers from perceived isolation from the French Quarter and CBD, but it also faces some larger economic woes because of recent (and dramatic) reductions in the operating hours of the Algiers ferry.
Earlier in July, the state Department of Transportation and Development took over local ferry operations — and a shoestring budget to keep them running — while a long-term solution could be figured out in the wake of the May vote to end tolls on the Crescent City Connection. The tolls formerly generated revenues to operate the Algiers and Chalmette ferries, which until recently ran until midnight. Now they stop at 6:15 p.m. on weeknights and 8 p.m. on weekends. Consequently, visitors to Algiers Point can't stay there for dinner, guests at Algiers bed and breakfasts have to return from the French Quarter before sunset, and service industry employees are stuck without a convenient way back across the river when their shifts end. Business owners on the Point say they've seen a calamitous drop in income as a result.
The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA), which is run by the international transportation firm Veolia, will seek public comment Aug. 5 on its plan to revise the Algiers ferry's operations to return it to "normal" service — with a fee. The proposed fare schedule is a hefty one for regular ferry riders — $75 for a monthly pass. For less frequent travelers, the proposed rate structure is a $2 one-way fare, or $4 round trip. It used to be free.
It seems clear that some sort of fee will be necessary to keep the Algiers ferry running, but it's also clear that two things need to be paramount in setting the fare. First, many Algiers residents work in the downtown hospitality industry. Ferry hours must be extended so that residents in our 24-hour city can get to and from work. Second, while a monthly pass structure is imperative, $75 seems steep. A monthly transit pass in San Francisco — which covers the entire city — is only $66.
You can voice your opinion at 5 p.m. on Aug. 5, at an RTA public hearing in the City Council Chamber of City Hall. Let the RTA know what you think.