Transit Advocate’s Guide: New Orleans Regional Transit Authority


New Orleans Regional Transit Authority

Mission/History
RTA Role
Funding
High-Profile Projects / Policies / Programs
Public Engagement
Reaching RTA
Advice for Advocates

Mission / History

The Regional Transit Authority (RTA) was created in 1979 as a political subdivision of the State.  It was intended to serve the region but local governments had to ‘opt-in’ to the RTA.  Initially, only New Orleans elected to participate in the RTA – later, Kenner also joined.  The Board is comprised of five members from New Orleans and three members from Jefferson Parish.

RTA Role

The RTA Board has the overall authority for public transit in New Orleans including setting fares, overseeing service and operations, developing operating budgets, approving each year’s annual transportation development plan, and deciding upon capital purchases and expansions. The RTA is empowered to sell bonds, set fares and transit routes and is a taxing authority.

In 2009, the RTA contracted out all day-to-day management of the Agency’s oversight to a private contractor – Veolia Transportation. Veolia handles operations and service, safety issues, vehicle maintenance, customer care, route design and scheduling, human resources, administration, ridership growth, capital planning, grant administration, communications, purchasing, and other agency functions. In 2014, under contract with the RTA, Veolia also took over operation of local ferries.

Funding

The RTA is funded through a variety of sources:

  • Fares – The RTA collects fares from public transit riders.  However, these fares cover only a fraction of the costs associated with running a public transit system.
  • Sales Tax – In 1985, voters approved a one-percent sales tax to fund public transit.
  • Hotel / Motel Occupancy Tax – A portion of a one-percent tax on hotel / motel occupancy also fund public transit in the region.
  • State Parish Transportation Fund  – One-percent of the gas tax statewide is dedicated to public transit agencies.  This generates about $4.99 million every year to be divided between the State’s transit agencies.
  • Federal Government – The RTA can apply for competitive grant funding from the federal government.  The RTA can also receive federal monies from the RPC through the MTP and Transportation Improvement Program process.
  • Bond Sales – The RTA can issue bonds to fund projects.

 High-Profile Projects / Policies / Programs

  • Streetcar Expansion Program  – The RTA is in the midst of implementing a major streetcar expansion project.  Recently, the RTA completed a  line connecting the Union Passenger Terminal to Canal Street along Loyola Avenue – it was funded through a $45 million competitive federal grant known as TIGER or “Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery”.  The RTA issued $75 million in bonds to fund a second phase of the project along N. Rampart Street between Canal Street and Elysian Fields. Construction will begin in 2014. A third phase is planned, but unfunded and would bring the streetcar along St. Claude Avenue to Poland Avenue.
  • Canal Terminal / Regional Transfer Station – The RTA has about $9 million in federal money to extend the Canal Streetcar 0.15 miles along City Park Avenue to Canal Boulevard to create a combined bus / streetcar terminal.  The project would facilitate easier and safer connections for transit riders transferring between the streetcar and bus.  This station would also serve as a regional transfer point as many Jefferson Parish Transit bus lines terminate at this location.  The project is currently going through an environmental review.
  • Ferries – In 2012, the dedicated funding for the ferries previously provided by the vehicle tolls on Crescent City Connection was eliminated.  Since then, Veolia Transportation, under contract with the RTA took over operation of the ferries and instituted a new toll.  For more information see http://nolaferries.com/.

Public Engagement

The RTA’s website is http://www.norta.com.  The RTA Board meets on the fourth Tuesday of every month at 10am.  There are opportunities for public comment at the Board meetings.

Riders Advisory Committee – The Riders Advisory Committee (RAC) provides a clear venue for riders to voice their concerns, share their ideas, and provide proactive input on major plans and decisions. The committee forms the backbone of a transit agency’s public engagement program, offering many benefits to both the agency and transit riders. Membership will consist of 21 members from Orleans and Jefferson Parish. Any resident who rides transit on a regular basis, is involved in his/her community, is able to attend committee meetings, and is willing to work towards a common goal is encouraged to apply. For more information, see the RTA’s description of RAC.

When expending federal money on a project, the RTA is required to follow the Federal Transit Authority’s prescribed public participation process that typically includes public meetings during the environmental analysis phase.

The RTA holds public meetings to receive feedback on proposed service changes.

There is a “MyRTA” feature on the RTA’s website where you can sign up to receive regular updates. You can also stay up to date on RTA happenings through its Facebook or Twitter page.

The RTA has a Paratransit Advisory Committee which serves in an advisory capacity in order ensure the RTA is serving the needs of riders with disabilities in the New Orleans community. The committee meets the first Thursday of every other month from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the RTA Headquarters at 2817 Canal Street.

Reaching RTA

Comments to the RTA can be submitted to comments@norta.com or via an online form.  The RTA general phone number is 504-248-3900.  The RTA headquarters is located at 2817 Canal Street, New Orleans, LA  70119.

ADVICE FOR ADVOCATES

Neighborhood advocates can expect to have the greatest success when working with the RTA on small-scale projects such as location of bus signage, shelters, and system information.

Changes to routes, frequency of service or the introduction of a new route requires larger scale advocacy effort.  In order to best advocate for these types of initiatives,

  • Demonstrate a need for the project.  Gather ridership statistics, conduct a complete streets audit, take photos or videos of dangerous conditions (ie poor driver behavior, jaywalking, illegal parking) for transit riders – anything that will help you to make the case for advancing the project. The following agencies are good places to start:

1. Crash data from the RPC
2. Ridership statistics from the RTA

  • Build support for the project.  Get your neighbors on board.  Talk with local businesses, churches, and school leaders.  Start a letter writing campaign or circulate a petition.  Talk with RTA staff, your City Council member and RTA Commissioners. Make your case at the monthly RTA meetings. Partner with non-profits who work on transportation issues.
  • Raise visibility.  Let the media know about your campaign.  Write a letter to the editor.  Hold an event to raise awareness.