New fares for the Algiers Point-Canal Street and Chalmette ferries will go into effect Sunday, but there remains no clear timeline for restoring late-night and early-morning hours to the former route, an important link between the West Bank and the French Quarter.
The key to potential longer hours will be encouraging more residents to use the ferries, providing Veolia — the company that manages the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority buses and streetcars — the money needed to increase the ferry’s schedule, officials said Tuesday as they formally marked the beginning of the firm’s operation of the ferries.
“The more people who use it, the more sustainable it’ll be over time,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said.
But while many cheered the end of months of uncertainty about whether the Veolia management deal would go through, some West Bank residents said there was little to celebrate.
“It’s a bit of a farce that they’re celebrating something that was taken away and then given back with less and costing more,” said Lance Vargas, a Jackson Square artist who has lived in Algiers Point for 10 years.
Vargas and Josh Murphey, a general contractor who has lived in Algiers for 15 years, said the ferries should remain free — bolstered, if necessary, with city funds — and should be seen as a public service ensuring residents are able to cross the river easily.
An assortment of politicians — including City Councilwomen Jackie Clarkson and Kristin Gisleson Palmer and state Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-Algiers — and ferry advocates were on hand for Tuesday’s announcement. Fay Faron, who heads the Friends of the Ferry organization, showed up in a fairy costume.
Uncertainty about the ferries began more than a year and a half ago, when the Legislature removed the funding they had been receiving from the Crescent City Connection tolls in preparation for a referendum on whether to extend those tolls. That extension eventually failed, as did an attempt to find a private company to take over the ferry operations.
Last year, the Legislature sweetened the pot by adding state funding to subsidize the ferries and passing legislation that would allow the RTA to operate them. That deal was supposed to go through by October but was only finalized last week after Veolia, a French company, secured federal approval to operate the route.
Veolia originally announced Friday that the new fares would go into effect Feb. 16, when it took over the route. The company later backtracked and delayed putting the fares into effect immediately.
Veolia Vice President Justin Augustine said Tuesday the delay was made to give residents more advance notice. He denied the delay was due to the upcoming March 15 runoff. The ferries’ schedule and fares have become an issue in the District C City Council race between Clarkson, currently an at-large council member, and her opponent, former Judge Nadine Ramsey.
“The real work begins now,” Augustine said.
West Bank residents and businesses have said longer ferry hours are crucial for Algiers Point residents commuting to jobs on the other side of the river, particularly for those in the service industry who work shifts that end after the boats stop for the night. The reduced hours have also raised concerns for businesses in Algiers Point, some of which have seen their customer base dry up now that tourists no longer have easy access to the area at night.
The lack of a clear plan for additional hours keeps that uncertainty going, to the detriment of those on the West Bank, Murphey said.
“People are less inclined to live over here and invest,” he said.
“And then you have real problems,” Vargas added.