Lawmakers approve bill, opening door for RTA to run ferries

Algiers Ferry
Algiers Ferry

A bill that opens the door for the Regional Transit Authority to take over control of the Chalmette and Algiers ferries heads to Governor Jindal's desk for approval. But the bill doesn't necessarily mean the ferries are saved.

State lawmakers have been hard at work these past few months, trying to come up with ways to save the Chalmette, Algiers and Gretna ferries. They were initially funded with toll money from the Crescent City Connection. But come July 1, the ferries may stop running.

Senator David Heitmeier (D-New Orleans) authored SB215, a bill that creates an avenue for the Regional Transit Authority to take over ferry service from the Department of Transportation. The RTA had been prohibited from operating ferries back in the 70's, so this bill struck that from the record.

Rachel Heiligman, director of the non-profit Ride New Orleans, says she's confident the RTA will take over the Chalmette ferry.

Heiligman explains, "The DOTD has really prioritized that ferry because of the distance between where the two ferry landings are."

Chalmette ferry rider Tony Aiola says, "I think it's a great idea that they keep it going. A lot of people depend on the ferry, they use this to commute back and forth every day, every evening, and it would be an inconvenience to go to the bridge or go to another ferry."

But it's unclear right now whether the RTA wants to take over the Algiers and Gretna ferries. "The RTA board has not met to evaluate this decision, they have not voted to take on ferry service, and so we just don't know what exactly is going to happen in the short term," said Heiligman.

The RTA has almost four weeks until funding runs out.  If the RTA does decide to operate the ferries, Heiligman says you can expect to see some changes.

The Algiers ferry is free for pedestrians and people bringing on a car just have to pay $1. Heiligman predicts, if the ferry continues to operate, those pedestrians will have to start paying a fare.

Rider Jeanine Rubanoff says she's doesn't mind paying, but can see how that might be hard for all ferry riders. "I do know that there are a lot of service workers, service industry workers that live over there that it probably would be a hardship on," said Rubanoff.

Heiligman says introducing a fare may be the only way to keep the ferries operational. And without the ferries, hundreds of people could lose access to their jobs.

FOX 8 reached out to the RTA Tuesday, but were agency officials would not comment on this story.