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More choose it for Canal Transit

The Times Picayune, 08/16/04

By Kimberly Melton
Staff writer/The Times-Picayune

Adam Tracey's ride to work is about 30 minutes longer these days, but it is also significantly cheaper. Tracey has been riding the Canal Street streetcar to work since the line opened in late April.

"It costs $175 to park across the street from our office in the Central Business District," said Tracey, who works at Peter A. Mayer Advertising. "I used to park in the French Quarter and pay $135 and walk, but the streetcar is only $55 per month."

He now parks his car for free near Jefferson Davis Parkway and hops on the streetcar for the trip downtown, flashing his monthly pass.

It also doesn't hurt that his company pays for RTA passes. "This is working," Tracey said. "Why spend the extra money?"

Tracey is one of many new riders that the streetcar has seen since reopening the line April 18. In May, June and July, the streetcar and the two express buses that serve Canal Street had about 260,000 more riders than the buses had during the same time in 2003.

Gerald Robichaux, the RTA's deputy general manager for operations, said he expected an increase in riders with the addition of the bright red cars to the fleet, but not to that extent.

"For a transit industry to have increased ridership in this day and time is a tremendous boost to what we do," Robichaux said. "The streetcar is an integral part in helping us make that leap."

Robichaux said he expected that some people would abandon their cars and hop on the streetcar to get to work. "I think in the long term we are looking at possibly moving our terminal at the cemeteries to Canal Boulevard or some other location that would offer more parking," Robichaux said.

Though the streetcar has been getting high marks from many of its riders, the line has had its share of delays and problems in keeping a consistent schedule, accommodating disabled riders and making dollar bills fit into the fare machines.

The RTA has changed its schedule a couple of times to one that Robichaux said is more realistic, considering issues such as wheelchair access and slow fare machines.

Still, Carol Anderson said she was happier on the bus. "It is faster, and it holds more people," Anderson said. "I have to leave my house about 20 minutes earlier than I used to."

Robichaux said riders shouldn't expect the streetcar to be as fast or keep the same schedule as the bus that previously served Canal Street. Riders can get down Canal faster riding the West End or the Canal Boulevard express buses during peak hours. Robichaux said he is looking at ways to reduce the long lines that often form as people try to fit their bills into the fare machine.

"We are looking at installing a vending machine that can actually read the bill when it comes into box instead of just accepting it," he said. "We are also looking at installing more machines that would sell tokens to riders."

Jamie Smith said that riding the streetcar has been a more pleasant experience overall than riding the bus down to her riverfront office. "Apart from the first week, I have not noticed any major problems," Smith said. "The streetcar is certainly quieter."

Katy Medders' car broke down about a month ago, but she said she is in no rush to get it fixed. Instead of driving, Medders has been riding the Canal streetcar to work each day.

"I used to drive and park, but this is 10 times cheaper," she said. "I can even put on my makeup on the way to work, but I draw the line at nail polish."

Robichaux said the streetcar's benefits go far beyond the obvious impacts on riders. "It has also helped with the ambiance of the street and to enhance our downtown," Robichaux said. "The downtowns that have recently come alive again, most of them have some rail or streetcar system that complements the downtown area."

Tracey said more streetcars in New Orleans would be a welcome sight. "I think this city needs more streetcars," he said. "I have never seen an empty streetcar on this route."

Once school begins, the RTA also plans to print new schedules to accommodate students.


The Times-Picayune. .


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