FOX 8 Defenders: Riders complain New Orleans bus service is unreliable
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Some commuters in New Orleans are growing increasingly frustrated with the Regional Transit Authority (RTA), calling the bus service unreliable and inconsistent.
Riders say late buses and unexpected delays have impacted their jobs and livelihoods.
Richard Garner, who is paralyzed, says his bus was running late on a scorching September day in Gentilly. When it finally arrived, he couldn’t board because the equipment needed to secure his wheelchair was broken.
The waiting game is nothing new for other riders.
“It’s never on time, I’m late for work because the bus never comes. Earlier today I was waiting out here for an hour and a half and the bus never showed up,” a rider in Gentilly told FOX 8.
“I end up walking and beating the bus to the bus stop,” another rider in Mid-City said.
Joe Lewis, a single father who relies on the bus to get to work, says inconsistencies affect his livelihood.
“The bus didn’t pull up until 7:53 this morning, and I was late for work,” he said.
Lewis documents his experiences to explain his tardiness to his employer.
“I’ve been taking screenshots of the bus schedules. I’ve been taking videos of me at the bus stop and the bus when it does pull up. So they can see if I get on it when it does pull up and its time stamped and everything,” Lewis said. “So they know it’s pretty much out of my control.”
He says the entire situation makes him angry.
“I pay for the monthly pass and I’ve been told since I’ve activated the pass, I can’t get any of the money back,” Lewis said.
Lewis says he grew tired of calling the RTA and getting the same response every time, so he called the FOX 8 Defenders.
“If you call the RTA ride line it’s the same thing every time; the bus broke down, the bus broke down, the bus broke down, it’s a broken record,” he said.
City Councilmember Oliver Thomas and State Rep. Mack Cormier have both received numerous complaints from constituents about the bus service.
“There’s a large population of people who get to work because of public transit, so the inconsistencies and the time and not being able to organize it around their work schedule is costing a lot of people,” Thomas stated.
“You pay taxes for this kind of thing and this is something that needs to be addressed ASAP,” Rep. Cormier said.
Lona Edwards Hankins, who took over as CEO of the RTA in March, says an aging fleet and a shortage of mechanics are at least partly to blame.
“We’re working hard every day to fix this, yes,” Edwards Hankins said. “The challenge really is that we don’t have a reliable fleet. Fifty percent of our buses are at the end of their useful life that’s, on any given day, 40-60 vehicles.”
Edwards Hankins says the bulk of the RTA’s 140 buses were purchased after Hurricane Katrina and have a shelf life of roughly 12 years. In 2017, she says some new buses were bought, but some that remain in service are past their shelf life.
Those older buses require more work. With a shortage of mechanics at the RTA and the buses’ original manufacturer no longer in business, Edwards Hankins says it’s created the perfect storm.
Buses aren’t always late. A performance graph received from the RTA shows that in August, buses that service Lakeview were on time 92 percent of the time. The worst performance time was in Algiers, with those buses on time only 64 percent of the time.
Edwards Hankins says one late bus is one too many.
Twenty-one new buses were ordered recently and the RTA got approval for eight more. The new buses take about a year before they hit the streets, so in the meantime, Edwards Hankins says she may reduce service frequency to ensure more reliable operations.
“When I say reducing service, some of our lines are promising to be delivered, a bus rolling, at a frequency of every 20 minutes. So we may have to cut that back to 25 minutes or 30 minutes,” she said. “Let’s make sure that we’re reliable with the delivery of our service.”
Commuters and local leaders alike are calling for a change so that riders are stranded by a service they’re paying for.
Rep. Cormier says he’s willing to ask for additional state funding for the RTA if necessary. Edwards Hankins says money is not the issue, it’s timing and maintenance. She encourages anyone looking for a job as a diesel mechanic to reach out to the RTA.
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