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Does New Orleans Public Transportation Have a Tourism Bias?

Streetcars as "neighborhood revitalization" as opposed to viable transportation

If you've driven in the French Quarter and Marigny lately you've surely seen the massive streetcar project taking place, which has made Esplanade Avenue—where it crosses N. Rampart Street and St. Claude Avenue—a total mess.

The project is expanding the streetcar line down St. Claude Avenue to Elysian Fields Avenue, but should New Orleans be focusing so much on streetcars? As streetcar service expands, a story on Al Jazeera wonders if this comes at the cost of the city's bus system, which has long served locals.

The story focuses on Eastern New Orleans, where residents of the diverse Village de L’Est suburb wait on one bus to come to the area—this is especially concerning, considering the neighborhood lacks in schools and job opportunities, forcing residents to commute.

While the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (NORTA) has said that 62 percent of its services have been restored since Hurricane Katrina, some are critical of that statistic, since that number is not broken down by streetcars and buses. The transit advocacy group RIDE New Orleans provides different numbers:

"Bus service in New Orleans is only around 35 percent of what it was pre-Katrina, while streetcar service has more than recovered since Katrina, at 103 percent of pre-storm service."

Rachel Heiligman, the former executive director of RIDE, posits that streetcar expansion is more about "revitalizing neighborhoods than actually providing transportation," and that adding streetcar service sometimes makes bus riders' commutes longer and more expensive, since they often have to transfer to a streetcar.

Has the city's bus system (not perfect, but certainly effective for many locals) faltered in favor of streetcars (slower, but prettier!)? Or is this "neighborhood revitalization" that streetcars can bring more important?

New Orleanians see tourism bias in post-Katrina public transport [Al Jazeera America]
Rampart-St. Claude streetcar project shuts Esplanade Avenue intersection [NOLA.com]