Changes for Algiers-Canal Street ferry include extended hours, new boats

June 12 2014 | Latest News
By Andrea Shaw, | The Times-Picayune

The Algiers-Canal Street ferry will begin extended five-day-a-week service from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m., beginning July 21. In addition, new boats also are planned for the fleet, which will remain pedestrian-only, Justin Augustine, vice president of Veolia Transportation Services and manager of the Regional Transit Authority, said during a meeting with the Algiers Point Association Thursday (June 12).

Before a standing-room-only crowd, Augustine's announcement of extended ferry hours was greeted with applause. He stressed that his company is committed to continuing ferry service, which has run continuously since 1827.

"We all want the exact same thing. We want to have an absolute superb, world-class ferry operation,'' he said. "...We are here to stay. We didn't take this daunting task on to come in here and three months later back away.''

The new schedule applies to Monday through Friday.

Augustine said state Sen. David Heitmeier and New Orleans Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey secured funding to extend the weekday hours for the next two years. Veolia will continue to work to expand hours on weekends, Augustine said.

"We want to capture as many people as we possibly can to help support this community to showcase Algiers has to offer to the world and the rest of the country,'' he said.

Last July, the boats' hours of operation were curtailed in response to a reduction of funding. Crescent City Connection tolls had subsidized the ferries for nearly $10 million annually until legislation stripped the funding source last year.

Residents had complained the restricted hours impacted commuters, particularly those who work in the service industry in the French Quarter. Reduced ferry service also impacted tourism on Algiers Point, with one businessowner reporting declines in sales of 32 percent.

Veolia Transportation Services, which manages RTA's buses and streetcars in New Orleans, took over ferry operations in February and implemented $2 fares for most passengers. The agency estimates it will cost $8.8 million annually to run the boats.

With the fares, Augustine said he expected a 20 percent drop in ridership. But it declined 29 percent on the Chalmette route and 24 percent on Canal Street. "We've got work to do. We've got to get our riders back,'' Augustine said. "Hopefully these additional hours will get our riders back.''

In addition, a campaign to market the ferry is expected to launch in August, he said.

Changes are ahead for the aging fleet of ferries. But their replacements will be pedestrian-only, Augustine said. The Crescent City Connection fulfills a federal transportation requirement, whereas the ferries, as a transit service, do not, he said.

"The cost of operating a car-service ferry is more expensive than operating a passenger-service ferry,'' he said. "As we struggle to keep our hours for you, we're going give you the most efficient and effective way of providing for you with the money we have.''

Mark Major, Veolia's chief investment officer, said one free boat would be added to the fleet and a $16 million purchase of others are planned. A 1980 ferry that was used in Washington state will become part of the New Orleans fleet through a federal transfer that must be approved by the Maritime Administration, he said.

Meanwhile, detailed specifications are being secured for catamaran-type pedestrian vessels that will be funded with $16 million in state money, Major said.

Augustine said the agency is still working through a number of issues inherited during the takeover from the state Department of Transportation and Development. Of the 55 employees working in ferry operations, 15 left. Augustine said Veolia is recruiting to replace those employees and provide customer service training for workers.

It also assumed infrastructure, such as a message board which cannot be updated remotely, and ferry terminals and other facilities, Major said.

"We took over the ferry assets that DOTD operated in the condition that they operated on Feb. 15. There wasn't a cleanup. There wasn't a tune-up of the boat engines. There wasn't a mopping of the terminals. We took them over in that condition,'' he said.

Other changes:

*Monthly ferry-only passes will be offered for $65 beginning July 1. They are good for unlimited rides.

*Fares will be integrated with bus and streetcar service in September.

*Drop boxes will be installed to allow passengers to pay fares without employees having to take cash. Automated fare collection with change cards will come in a subsequent phase.