People from out-of-state visit New Orleans for a variety of reasons – our food, our culture, our parades, et cetera – and many of those things they enjoy. But there's one thing they don't enjoy: our bus system.
For a while now, I have been wanting to write an article about the state of New Orleans bus system, but I hadn't been able to find any statistics that satisfied me. A friend of mine told me I should crunch some numbers and do my own research, and I thought that would be a good idea.
So I decided to crunch my own numbers using information from APTA, the American Public Transportation Association, which compiles a list from the Federal Transit Administration of the 55 most urbanized cities in the United States, including New Orleans.
I divided the total passenger miles and divided them by each city's population. When you take population into account, New Orleans ranks second-to-last in total passenger miles, just ahead of Kansas City, Missouri.
So, basically, that means New Orleans commuters are not taking the bus anywhere near as much as even the average American bus system – or even the below average bus system.
So what's making this the case?
Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley found in a recent study that when commuters were faced with unreliable buses that didn't run on time, most of those commuters switched to other modes of transportation entirely, like driving.
So are New Orleans buses unreliable? Well, I can't seem to find any statistics for that online. What I did find were mostly-negative user reviews on Yelp for the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority.
In the reviews, a need for more reliable and updated bus schedules was voiced, as well as a tracking system. Some reviews by commuters stated that when they were waiting for a bus (or a streetcar) that they would never show up.
The Berkeley study did also mention the importance of accurate information, and how the use of accurate tracking on smartphones can increase public transit riding. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority website does not have any type of tracking system, just a variety of different maps and schedules that may or not be helpful.
I also found a Letter to the Editor for the Times-Picayune written by New Orleans resident Elishia McAllister titled “New Orleanians are stuck in traffic because RTA isn't dependable” which stated:
“[T]hese buses can run anywhere from 15 minutes early to 20 minutes late. Add getting there 15 minutes early, just in case, and now the one-way travel time has extended to an hour and a half to arrive at a place that would only take 12 to 15 minutes to reach by car. People who do not own a vehicle have just as much to accomplish in a day as anyone else, and they want to get home at the end of it to the family waiting for them.”
“Quality public transportation is one of the main obstacles preventing New Orleans citizens from flourishing post-Katrina. Navigating the transit system here takes a learned practice and determination unrequired in cities of comparable size,” her letter continued. “Buses benefit us all by greatly reducing the number of cars on our roads (on average 40-45 people riding in one vehicle), in turn lessening accidents, wear and tear on our already abysmal streets (guess why car insurance rates are among the highest in the country here?) and carbon emissions (city buses are exclusively run on bio-diesel, street cars by electric power).”
The average auto insurance premium in Louisiana is $2,536 per year, according to data from the Insurance Research Council – nearly double the median U.S. premium. Louisiana and New Orleans also has the second-largest rate of poverty, 27 percent and 25.7 percent respectively, according to the U.S. Census latest estimates.
Both the high poverty percentage and car insurance premiums could be cut substantially by bettering the New Orleans bus system.
And, in addition to the things McAllister touched on, APTA put out a separate and very comprehensive report detailing the economic benefits of a reliable public transportation system. Including all states throughout the U.S., for every billion dollars spent on public transportation, over 41,000 jobs are created. And for every billion spent, $3.6 billion is added to business sales, and $1.8 billion is added to the national GDP.
It's time for New Orleans to jump aboard the band wagon – or in this case, the bus – and join all the other cities by having a more reliable bus system.