May 9, 2023
Dear President Lee Sheng,
Ride New Orleans (RIDE) is writing to express our concern regarding the upcoming planned cuts to Jefferson Parish transit service, currently scheduled to take effect on June 4, 2023. These cuts, which RIDE learned about in April, will include eliminating the E1 Veterans connection to the New Orleans CBD via Canal Street, discontinuing the E6 Metairie Local bus line, and significantly cutting service on many other routes on both the East and West Bank.
RIDE believes these cuts would represent a major setback from the important work your administration has done in the past several years to improve transit service in Jefferson Parish, including implementing the regional New Links plan in 2022. In fact, the proposed cuts would significantly roll back many of the New Links changes implemented last year. Ride New Orleans strongly urges Jefferson Parish to suspend implementation of the planned June 4th cuts for the following reasons:
- The proposed cuts will significantly harm residents who rely on the transit system to access work, school, and other destinations; as well as businesses in Jefferson Parish. RIDE is concerned these cuts will severely impact the Jefferson Parish transit system during a period of strong ridership growth, when the importance of high-quality transit is greater than ever. Based on RIDE’s analysis, the impact of the cuts will be felt parish-wide but will be especially severe for residents and businesses along the Veterans corridor.
- RIDE understands these cuts are being proposed due to a funding gap for transit operations in Jefferson Parish. However, we strongly believe that cutting service now is premature given that JP Transit retains a sufficient fund balance to operate service at existing levels for several more years. This provides a valuable window for the Parish to look at alternatives and seek additional funding to maintain existing service. We believe that any cuts to service must be a last resort after other options have been considered.
- RIDE is concerned that public engagement around the service reductions has been very limited, and that Jefferson Parish has not clearly explained why specific cuts are being proposed, and that JP Transit has not fully communicated the impact of some of the planned cuts. We believe that JP Transit has a duty to provide comprehensive and detailed public information about any proposed service cuts and to conduct robust public engagement prior to implementation, which – to date – has not yet occurred.
The proposed cuts to transit will harm riders and businesses. RIDE believes that the June 4th service cuts will cause significant harm to Jefferson Parish residents who rely on the bus to access work, school, and other destinations. While these service reductions would hit hardest for the Parish’s poorest and most vulnerable residents, they will also cause economic harm to the Parish as a whole by cutting access to major retail and employment destinations. We are particularly concerned regarding planned changes to the E1 bus line, which connects many East Bank transit riders to the New Orleans CBD and vice-versa.
Using the “Access to Jobs” methodology described in our annual State of Transit report, RIDE has conducted an analysis of the planned service cuts in Jefferson Parish, along with concurrent RTA service cuts scheduled for June 4th. Based on RIDE’s analysis, a typical East Bank transit rider will be able to access 11% fewer jobs by riding transit, with some areas along the Veterans and Causeway corridors having job access cut by 40% or more. Access to jobs will also be reduced for many West Bank riders due to increased wait times for buses serving the CBD, as well as for Orleans Parish residents who travel to jobs and businesses in Jefferson Parish.
The proposed cuts are premature. RIDE is aware JP Transit is running a deficit: the annual cost of fixed-route transit operations exceeds the millage and other revenues which fund transit in Jefferson Parish. However the agency retains a fund balance which is more than sufficient to operate service at current levels through at least 2025 before cuts would become necessary. Indeed, the fund balance for JP Transit grew substantially in 2020 and 2021 due to infusions of federal COVID relief funds for transit operations.
Furthermore, JP Transit is currently experiencing steady ridership growth, as ridership continues to rebound from the pandemic and transit riders become familiar with the New Links changes implemented in 2022. In March 2023, JP Transit ridership reached 128,000 passenger trips, which represents the highest ridership since the beginning of the pandemic, and a 21% year-over-year increase from last year. Year-over-year ridership is now at >80% of pre-pandemic (2019) levels. We believe that cutting service right now – when ridership is increasing – may reverse those gains and ultimately harm the long-term financial sustainability of the agency.
While RIDE understands the current deficit is unsustainable in the long run, the agency is not in immediate danger of insolvency. We believe Jefferson Parish leadership should utilize the next two years to identify realistic alternatives to cutting service, including securing additional sources of local, state and/or federal funding for transit operations. RIDE believes that cuts should only be considered as a last resort after all other options have been exhausted, and – with due respect – we believe Jefferson Parish leaders have a duty to make that effort on behalf of the parish’s most vulnerable residents who rely on transit.
Public and stakeholder outreach on the proposed cuts has not been sufficient. To date, Jefferson Parish has not published information about the planning process for the June 4th service cuts, including how service is being prioritized and why specific cuts are being implemented. We note that Jefferson Parish is proposing to cut service on several of the highest ridership JP Transit routes, including the E1 Veterans, W2 Westbank Expressway, and W3 Lapalco bus lines. These are the most productive JP Transit lines, and form the backbone of transit service in the Parish, connecting many riders from the East and West Bank to downtown. Any cuts to these lines will disproportionately reduce ridership (and fare revenue) across the entire system, which makes them difficult to understand from a cost-benefit perspective in terms of making JP Transit service financially sustainable.
Furthermore, JP Transit has only conducted very limited engagement to riders and the public. Only two public hearings have been held regarding the proposed service cuts, both of which were attended by a number of residents expressing strong opposition. We are particularly concerned that the information published on the JP Transit website does not convey the full extent of some of the proposed cuts, including service reductions and substantially increased wait times on West Bank bus routes, which RIDE only learned about by attending the public hearings last week.
RIDE believes that, at a minimum, Jefferson Parish has an obligation to conduct a robust public engagement process prior to considering any cuts to transit service. Such a process should provide a clear justification for service reductions, including what alternatives were considered; should identify a methodology and metrics for prioritizing service; and should incorporate ample opportunities for rider input, including outreach bus stops and other locations accessible to riders, such as Wilty Terminal.
We also believe that any changes to service must be fully and accurately communicated to riders and the public well in advance of implementation. As it stands, we are concerned that many riders will not have an opportunity to learn about (let alone provide input on) the proposed changes until after they are implemented.
Ride New Orleans strongly urges Jefferson Parish to cancel or suspend the service cuts currently scheduled for implementation June 4. We understand the financial context of the proposed cuts, and are aware that service cannot be sustained indefinitely at current funding levels. Nevertheless, we emphasize again that JP Transit still has a substantial fund balance for transit operations which is sufficient to cover any revenue shortfalls for several more years prior to hitting the “fiscal cliff” where cuts would become necessary.
We believe that Jefferson Parish should use the remaining time before the fund balance is exhausted to fully explore alternatives to cutting service, and to conduct a robust public process if service reductions become necessary. We believe there are a number of funding opportunities at the local, state and federal level, and will assist the Parish to seek funding in whatever ways we can via our advocacy and policy work.
Ride New Orleans