With bridge tolls no longer available to subsidize the service, the future of the Algiers-Canal ferry is looking bleaker by the day, and Gretna service may fare worse than that.
Gov. Bobby Jindal on Thursday signed a bill proposing that the Regional Transit Authority take over the service. Act number 273 becomes effective July 1, but the RTA had no comment Tuesday on whether it will agree to finance the service.
According to a fiscal recommendation attached to the bill, the most likely scenario for the Algiers-Canal service is to operate a mere 20 hours a week, compared to about 130 hours currently.
There’s just not enough money, said Alan Boxberger, a fiscal analyst who worked on the legislation.
Although the law doesn’t specify the schedule cuts, its author, state Sen. David Heitmeier, D-Algiers, says that he thinks the Canal Street service is more viable than the other New Orleans ferry, the one to Gretna. Frequently out of service and limited to pedestrians, the Gretna line is likely to be scuttled altogether.
When abolition of the Crescent City Connection fares was in the offing, the Legislature passed a bill that would allow for the privatization of the ferries, but no bidders took the bait.
The new bill compels the Louisiana Department of Transportation to replace the toll revenues with an allocation of up to $4 million a year, but only for the Chalmette ferry service.
The Chalmette ferry connects two state highways, which means the transportation department can tap the Transportation Trust Fund for maintenance of the link.
Operating the Algiers-Canal service for just 20 hours a week is estimated to cost $964,000 a year, an amount the transportation department has said it can scrape together — substantially less than the $3.2 million the current service costs annually.
A New Orleans Ferry Fund set up by the new law is expected to generate about $830,000 a year from truck and trailer registrations in Orleans Parish.
The rest would come from fares, an as yet uncertain revenue stream, Boxberger said. But no one’s expecting the fares to restore full service. “There is no ferry service in the country that is self-supporting — they’re all subsidized,” Boxberger said. “I’m not sure how high you can raise the fares.”
The Algiers ferry provides transportation for 1.1 million pedestrians and 175,000 vehicles annually, according to Friends of the Ferry, an organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the city’s ferries.
Greater New Orleans ferries have the fourth highest ridership of any ferry system in the United States, according to the site, founded by Fay Faron.
If these ferries close, bridge traffic will increase and commuters will be inconvenienced. “People around here are really getting freaked out,” Faron said, “and I don’t blame them.”
And the problem goes deeper than just getting the ferries to operate, Faron said. The boats are more than 40 years old and need to be replaced.
“They’re held together by, like, dental floss right now and they can barely keep them in the water,” she said.