Growing up in New York City has demonstrated to me the importance of transportation equality in a major city. A deficit in affordable and easy transportation is a barrier to employment, education, social activities, and fresh, healthy food. As poorer communities and communities of color get pushed further away from the urban core, even just train or bus delays can be a severe impediment to establishing healthy routines, both on an individual and on an urban scale. Understanding the way transit affected lives in New York made me eager to understand that relationship within New Orleans. It was with this desire that I applied for an internship at RIDE New Orleans. RIDE is research and advocacy organization that seeks solutions to New Orleans’ most paramount transit obstacles. RIDE pushes for more transparency and action from the RTA, conducts grassroots and community outreach, and produces research on transit and accessibility.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the existing transportation system and the city has not yet fully restored to its former breadth. This led to a number of problems that continue to affect the RTA: damaged routes and terminals, a drop in ridership, a paucity of working vehicles. In turn, these problems manifest in familiar ways: long (over one hour) wait times, unexpected delays or route changes, a lack of infrastructural reliability. After a summer with RIDE, I learned that many lines that existed before Katrina are no longer routes on the RTA’s roster. Additionally, the Gretna ferry terminal was damaged so badly that it is no longer in service. However, Katrina did not cause all of New Orleans’ transit woes.
Orleans and Jefferson Parishes each have their own transportation systems, a major detriment to regional connectivity and job access. Additionally, the RTA itself has contracted almost all of its operations over to a private, transnational corporation, which reports to a small board of commissioners. Most recently, the city has focused on streetcar renovations, catering to a tourist demographic. While tourism brings the city tremendous wealth, these recent renovations increase New Orleans’ dependence on that industry. Simultaneously, the city fails to strengthen its local infrastructure. In practice, many locals come second to the tourism industry. Fortunately, the RTA is on track to make serious progress towards an effective and sustainable transit system in New Orleans.
The RTA board of commissioners recently appointed two new members, which will hopefully lead to more oversight of the private corporation in charge of the system. Newly elected Mayor Latoya Cantrell has also started a city-wide Department of Transportation, which will work with Orleans’ and Jefferson’s respective transit systems to increase regional connectivity. Finally, the RTA has spent the last year conducting a Comprehensive Operations Analysis, out of which a strategic plan has been drawn for the next twenty years. This plan, if implemented, will increase job access, connect communities, and push New Orleans into its next phase as a global city. The plan, which focuses on reliability, sustainability, and trust is a far cry from the city’s rather reckless streetcar renovation.
Because RIDE is a non-profit advocacy group, they did not have the operational budget to pay a summer intern. Newcomb Tulane College afforded me the opportunity to forgo a salary or stipend and devote myself fully to the work at RIDE. Without the support of NTC, I would not have had the liberty to work with the needs of the greater New Orleans community, undergo a professional experience at a non-profit, and critically analyze the city through the lens of my Urban Studies minor.
Written by Carlo Vescovi, Ching Grant recipient, 2018