Big news on New Links next steps!

Last week the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) made a really important announcement! For the first time since the RTA board approved the New Links regional transit network redesign, there is a real path – with a detailed timeline and budget – toward New Links implementation!

This is a big deal for transit riders in the New Orleans region – keep reading below to learn why we’re so excited!

And if you’re excited too, please sign our petition to let the RTA know you support the full implementation of New Links!


What’s new?

At the January 13 RTA Operations Committee, staff laid out for the first time, a detailed timeline, cross-departmental plan, and budget for implementing New Links. If the RTA sticks to this timeline, the large majority of New Links proposed changes will be implemented in September 2022.

You can see the full timeline here and the full budget here, but roughly the implementation can be divided into three stages over the coming months:

  • Winter – early Spring 2022: Final internal evaluation of New Links recommendations, proposals for any changes, and final ratification of changes to network
  • Spring to early Summer 2022: Preparation of detailed routes and schedules for new network; preparation of public outreach campaign for riders
  • Summer 2022 – September 2022: Implementation of public outreach campaign for riders, installation of new bus stop signs and relocation of some shelters, implementation of network redesign

To add to this detailed outline, the RTA also announced that the temporary downtown transfer center in front of the downtown library will open in September as well, in coordination with the New Links implementation. That will be a huge step for transit riders in general who have suffered through the many deficiencies of the Duncan Plaza ad hoc setup over the last two-plus years.


Why is this important?

When implemented, New Links will be a gamechanger for New Orleans region transit riders. It will make transit more frequent, reliable, and useful for the vast majority of people in the region. New Links will transform a regional transit system where 2/3 of the buses come only once, or, at most, twice an hour to one where 2/3 of the buses will come every 30 minutes or less. The New Links plan will create a core set of 17 lines that will come every 20 minutes or less – most 7 days a week – and will connect every major part of the south shore New Orleans region together. New Links will double the number of carless households and riders of color that have access to fast, frequent transit service.

But while the RTA board approved the framework of New Links in March 2021, until now there had been no action for comprehensive implementation (at least publicly). Yes, there were a few small moves – slight schedule changes in June 2021 that brought increased frequency to the #88 St. Claude and #91 Jackson-Esplanade as called for in New Links, a series of online-only hearings that took place only weeks after Hurricane Ida (and that most riders knew nothing about). And over the weekend, we were thrilled to see the reintroduction of the Barracks bus – the New Links-recommended Lower 9th Ward circulator that was discontinued after Katrina.

But a network redesign like New Links is not like a buffet where you can take only what suits you at the time. The benefits of New Links are dependent on the implementation of all or most of the proposed changes across the entire network. Without that full implementation you lose the scheduling efficiencies that bring the improved service at roughly the same overall cost.

Knowing this, RIDE had been increasingly worried in recent months that New Links implementation might be a “if” not “when” situation. That’s why last week’s presentation of a detailed plan for implementation was so important!


What’s next?

As always, with transit policy, just because there’s a plan it doesn’t mean that implementation is a foregone conclusion! The next few months will still be critical for the success of the New Links plan. We’ll be especially watchful and keeping you updated on a few key periods:

  • Now – the end of March: The RTA will finalize the changes to New Links, first focusing on West Bank, then East Bank lines. There may be some important moments of mobilization for the rider voice to ensure that the most important proposed changes are included in the final implementation.
  • April/May: The RTA should be finalizing the communications/outreach plan designed to inform riders how New Links will develop and exactly what changes will occur. The communications plan/outreach plan will be crucial as riders will need to be kept up to speed on what will be significant changes to the transit network. This is an important opportunity for the current RTA staff to show that rider engagement is a much bigger priority than it was under the previous regime and RIDE will be pushing hard on this part of the project.
  • Summer: The rollout of the communications/outreach plan
  • September: Implementation!