The clock is ticking. Come July 1, ferry service between Algiers and Canal Street could cease now that Crescent City Connection tolls, which funded most of the service, have been abolished.
A bill sitting on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk proposes that the Regional Transit Authority take over some ferry service. But, this being New Orleans, a citizen’s group has come up with an alternate strategy just in case: Turn the ferry into a party boat and let the service pay for itself by offering music, ad space, a clothing store, good food and specialty cocktails.
“One of the great things about New Orleans is our ability to turn anything functional into a fun time,” said Grant Morris, the ItsNewOrleans.com radio host who came up with the “Buy the Algiers Ferry” scheme. “There’s no reason why the ferry can’t be turned into a self-sustaining project. Besides, who wouldn’t want to have a cocktail?” he added.
Not to hose down the eager radio host, but it may take more than a few cocktails to finance the deal.
Buying the ferry could cost $3 million, according to Morris’ research. And operational expenses for the Algiers-Canal ferry come to about $3.2 million a year, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office.
How much has Morris raised toward that goal to date? As of Thursday, the fund stood at $437.
Morris has generated some support on social media for his idea and says he has the backing of several small New Orleans businesses and the World Trade Center, but he admits that his campaign is a long shot.
“We have no idea what we’re doing,” Morris says. “We have never bought a vehicular ferry and turned it into a vehicular ferry party boat before. Nonetheless, we are confident we can find people who can do that — no problem — in New Orleans.”
But would the powers that be allow a private group take over ferry service? There’s nothing in the law that says no — provided they kept their inspection certificate current, according to Brian Khey, the chief of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Inspections Division in New Orleans.
Booze on board? He doesn’t know of a Coast Guard restriction on that — though it can be assumed the rules on drunken piloting would be stringently enforced.
RTA could run ferries – but which ones?
The more promising support for continued, albeit limited, ferry service is embodied in a bill authored by state Sen. David Heitmeier, D-Algiers. It would empower New Orleans Regional Transit Authority to take over New Orleans ferry services.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean all the ferries would be saved.
A fiscal note to the bill says “in any scenario in which one or more ferries beyond the Chalmette ferry were to continue operations, the service schedule would likely be severely reduced or restricted from current levels.”
Proposed restricted ferry service would operate at 20 hours a week.
“There’s nothing set in stone yet,” Heitmeier told The Lens. “We are very hopeful, but the plan has not yet been put into place.”
Heitmeier said that although the bill is on Jindal’s desk awaiting his veto or signature, the plan needs an operator. “The RTA is enthusiastic about making it happen, but they are a business and they have to dot their I’s and cross their T’s.”
“At the end of June the state ceases to operate unless we have a plan.”
In a statement, the RTA declined to comment until the law has been signed and reviewed for feasibility.
Morris told The Lens he doesn’t think Jindal will sign the law; Heitmeier feels similarly about the potential to pull off this party boat mission.
“I’ll let the facts speak for themselves,” Heitmeier said, referring to the sum collected so far. “But we are a party town.”