Land Use

Jindal signs bill that puts fate of Canal Street ferry service in RTA’s hands

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 radio deejay’s dream of generating donations sufficient to buy the ferry and run it as a party boat seems to be going nowhere.

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.

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About Della Hasselle

Della Hasselle, a freelance journalist and producer, reports environmental and criminal justice stories for The Lens. A graduate of Benjamin Franklin High School and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, Hasselle lived in New York for 10 years. While up north, she produced and anchored news segments, wrote feature stories and reported breaking news for, a hyperlocal news site. Before that, she worked at the New York Daily News. She obtained her master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She can be reached at (917) 304-6121.

  • Cathy Carmack

    well I guess you wont be here that long either? to take away something the hours that we on the west bank need shame on you, you have shown your true colors, and don’t say we don’t have the money for we do it has been there and shame on you….there are boats running all over the US that survive so why can’t you fine the money for the west bank? and the east bank? politics I do understand, either or get off the pot/vote for once a believer ain’t there no more. You get money for some sort of whatever it is on Franklin Ave to move traffic when we have streets in holes, and people that work on the east bank, school on the east bank and live on the west bank and depend on the ferry, so where are you? money in your pocket I guess I will be kicked out for my opinion but we have heard yours??????

  • nickelndime

    What I want to know is, who voted Jindal in – the second time – and who is going to escort him out?