Saturday, April 19, 2008

I wouldn't even call them streetcars

Five pre-Katrina items about the Canal street things -- not a thesis, just background source material from the pages of the local paper.

I. Letter to the editor Times-Picayune April 21, 2004

Transit is not just for tourists

After 35 years, I thought I had lived in New Orleans long enough not to be surprised by the incompetence and contempt for the public by those who supposedly provide public services. But as I witnessed the utter chaos on Canal Street Monday morning, I was reminded again just how close we are to Third World status.

Fortunately, my usual bus was still running, albeit not on any recognizable schedule. There were plenty of people who had no idea that their usual buses were not running, or that some buses had new names. There were no signs giving information at the numerous former bus stops.
I am sure the streetcars will please the tourists, increase the RTA's income and maybe even help the New Orleans Museum of Art. But the people who are going to work or to school have been shafted.

Edward Real

New Orleans

II. Editorial Times-Picayune August 18, 2004

Streetcar successes

When a brand new streetcar line took the place of most Regional Transit Authority bus services along Canal Street in April, commuters had to endure delays and other unexpected mishaps. But the latest surprise along Canal is a pleasant one.

In May, June and July, RTA operations on Canal -- the streetcar and two express buses -- together served 260,000 more riders than old bus lines did during the same months last year. The authority didn't expect so large an increase.

The question now is whether ridership will hold up over time.

Streetcars have an undeniable aesthetic value; unlike buses, they catch one's fancy as they roll by. To be a success in the long term, though, the streetcar line must operate smoothly enough that commuters can rely on it to get to work on time every day.

The authority still has some problems to hash out. For example, riders have had to wait to board the streetcars because riders ahead of them in line can't easily fit their dollar bills into the cars' fare machines. RTA officials are thinking about installing better bill-reading equipment aboard cars and putting vending machines that would dispense tokens at more stops.

Such changes are in order if they'll cut down on delays.

A well-designed transit system reduces traffic congestion and the demand for parking spaces and improves employment prospects for people who don't drive. For the Canal streetcar line to play that role, its cars don't just have to be pleasant and attractive. They also have to be an easy, consistent, dependable way to get around.

III. Letter to the editor Times-Picayune June 10, 2004

Speed up, how about it?

The new streetcars on Canal Street and on North Carrollton are nice attractive red cars. They run on very smooth tracks, and they are air conditioned.

But they are an operational disaster!

Sunday my wife and I went for a ride on one, from Royal and Canal out to the Sculpture Garden in City Park. We had to wait 20 minutes before our car came along. It missed almost every traffic light before it got out of the CBD, and it seemed to take an inordinate amount of time for passengers to load and pay their fares. Then the car poked along at about 10 to 15 mph. It took 40 minutes to go from Royal Street to the end of the line at Beauregard Circle.

My wife said, "How would you like to have to commute to work every day on this thing?" The whole trip took us an hour, counting the time we had to wait at the car stop downtown.

It seems something could be done to load passengers faster. Also, I wonder if the cars couldn't be given some kind of control over the traffic lights. If the cars aren't sped up, I don't see how they will be attractive to riders, nor do I see how they will ever fulfill the great expectations for them to help revitalize Canal Street.

Richard J. Moore


IV. Article Times-Picayune April 30, 2004

Streetcar delays among growing pains;
But new Canal line attracted 125,000 riders in its first week

By Frank Donze; Staff writer

Delays likely will be the norm along the Canal Street streetcar line in the near future as the Regional Transit Authority continues to grapple with growing pains associated with breaking in the popular new service.
"It's no secret we're not consistent just yet," Gerald Robichaux, the RTA's deputy general manager, said Thursday. "But after this weekend, I promise we'll get much better."

The return of streetcars to Canal after a 40-year absence has been a rousing success, attracting 125,000 paying customers during the first week of service, which ended Sunday.

But the RTA has been bombarded with complaints from rush-hour commuters about long waits along the Canal Street route between City Park Avenue and the Mississippi River, and the North Carrollton Avenue spur that terminates at Beauregard Circle.
In addition to the community-wide excitement that has accompanied the streetcar renaissance, the launch of the new line coincided with the final day of the French Quarter Festival, whose patrons used streetcar service in large numbers.

While the crowds have slowed the system at times, particularly last weekend during the first three days of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, there have been other vexing problems.

For example, transit officials said drivers and riders still are adjusting to the super-sensitive fare boxes on the new streetcars that often refuse to accept worn currency. And despite stepped-up police enforcement and new signs, motorists are failing to obey the no-left-turn rules up and down Canal Street, blocking intersections and impeding the flow of streetcars.

Thus far, transit officials said there have been only a handful of minor accidents involving vehicles and streetcars, and none has been the fault of RTA personnel.

But perhaps the most unanticipated obstacle to on-time performance was the large number of wheelchair-bound customers who used the line during its debut week.

Unlike RTA buses and the agency's only other commuter streetcar line on St. Charles Avenue, the Canal streetcars are equipped with hydraulic lifts to accommodate disabled riders, as required by federal law. The St. Charles line is exempt from the requirement because it is on the National Register of Historic Places.

During the seven-day period that ended last Sunday, 245 wheelchair-bound customers used the two dozen streetcars on the Canal Street line, officials said. Each streetcar can accommodate two wheelchairs.

In a typical week, RTA managers said about 125 riders using wheelchairs board the system's 350 or so buses.

"We advertised that we are an accessible system," Robichaux told the RTA board of commissioners during their monthly meeting Thursday. "And they've said, 'OK, here we come!' "

On average, it takes a driver about 12 minutes to board and secure a rider in a wheelchair.

While Robichaux said the enthusiastic response from the handicapped community has been "heartwarming," it also "slows us down. But that's part of the game."

With experience, RTA brass hope drivers can reduce the time it takes to board a wheelchair passenger.

When it comes to traffic hazards, the RTA intends to enforce the law.

Last week, in fact, transit police officers told the board that they issued 114 citations for illegal left turns at a single intersection: Canal at Claiborne Avenue.

As for the fare box problems, the RTA is encouraging riders to use coins or transit tokens, rather than bills. The one-way streetcar fare is $1.25.

Tokens are on sale at two fare booths, one at Canal and Carondelet streets, the other at Canal and North Peters streets. The booths are open from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. during the week and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends.

Customers also can buy tokens and multiday transit passes at dozens of commercial locations across the city, including Hibernia and Whitney Bank branches and Winn-Dixie supermarkets. The list of vendors is available on the RTA's Web site,, or by calling the agency's RideLine at 248-3900.

RTA officials also said they are exploring the possibility of installing machines that dispense tokens along the Canal Street route.

While regular bus service along Canal Street has been discontinued, customers still have the option of using the West End and Canal Boulevard express lines that travel the route on weekdays during rush hour.

The express buses operate every 30 minutes or so from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The express buses pick up riders at every stop between the lakefront and the intersection of North Anthony and Canal streets, and between Claiborne Avenue and the Mississippi River. There are no stops between North Anthony and Claiborne.

Ideally, Canal streetcars are supposed to arrive every six minutes between Carrollton Avenue and the river and every 12 minutes along other sections of Canal and along the spur line.

But RTA officials acknowledge that they have not been hitting those marks.

"Ridership so far has been beyond our imagination," RTA General Manager Bill Deville told the agency's board. "But with success comes a few growing pains.

"It took 14 years to design and construct this project. And it will take a few weeks to straighten things out."

V. Article Times-Picayune April 20, 2004

Bugs bite new Canal streetcar line service;
Riders complain of unexplained delays

By Susan Finch and Tara Young; Staff writers

Glitches that threw schedules for the new Canal streetcar line out of whack during its first weekday commute prompted angry complaints from riders who said rush-hour delays made them late for work and school.
On the line's upper end at Canal Street and City Park Avenue, anxious riders cooled their heels Monday morning for nearly an hour while a riverbound streetcar stood empty in front of them and no others were in sight.

Several of those waiting said the service was too slow.

"The (rush hour) buses are more quicker and more convenient," said Trenice Jackson, a cook at a Canal Street restaurant.

Regional Transit Authority officials promised a quick fix but urged the public to keep in mind that the service, ferrying riders on Canal between the river and City Park Avenue and on Carrollton between Canal and the New Orleans Museum of Art, will take some getting used to by riders and drivers.
"We know that it was slow today," RTA spokeswoman Beth Branley said. "Any time anything is brand new, we have to step back, analyze what went wrong, fix it and go forward. We want people to ride and be happy and get to work on time."

The confusion apparently started when the driver of an empty streetcar that had developed a problem turned onto the Carrollton avenue spur and headed out to the art museum, instead of up Canal to the cemeteries, where the malfunctioning car was to be replaced by another car.

Another streetcar driver followed suit. So, for a spell Monday morning, no cars were available between Carrollton and City Park Avenue, and the delays were long, said frustrated riders and RTA officials.

Later Monday, to help meet greater-than-expected demand on the line going to City Park Avenue, the RTA routed more streetcars that way. In the morning, the agency had evenly split 18 cars between the two terminus points. For the afternoon, it sent 15 cars to City Park Avenue from downtown and only three onto the Carrollton spur.

Additionally, RTA officials said a supervisor was stationed at Carrollton and Canal during Monday afternoon to make sure the streetcars headed to their intended destinations. They acknowledged the day was not without kinks, but noted it was the first workday and demand was high.

"Give us three months and we should have it under control," one supervisor said.

Many riders said they were willing to give the Canal line another chance. James Bergeron, who started out from his home in the Garden District at 2:30, transferred to the Canal line from the St. Charles line, but didn't get to Carrollton until 4:40 p.m. He was still waiting for the connection to City Park 45 minutes later.

"I understand it is the second day," Bergeron said. "It is an easy thing to fix. I am not the least bit concerned about that. If I can leave my car somewhere and get to places, that's the route I am going to take, and it's nice. I can't wait to use it for Jazzfest."

Some commuters were unaware the new Canal line replaced RTA buses. Johnny Brown, who works at a restaurant at Metairie, waited 90 minutes, and when neither bus nor streetcar showed up, called the restaurant. Someone came to get him.

Deborah Shelby, who works at Mercy Hospital, was among those waiting. She said she hoped the RTA wasn't too focused on tourists.

"They need to look after the people who have to go to work," she said.

The Canal line was slowed, too, by large number of riders boarding and dealing with a new kind of farebox, RTA officials said.

"It's a highly sensitive, computerized system that's all tied together," Branley said. "We just have some growing pains. We're going to take a look at them and we're just going to have to fix them."

The goal is to have streetcars available to commuters every 6 minutes during the morning and evening rushes, but RTA officials acknowledge they aren't there yet. Transit users who want faster service on Canal Street can catch express buses, which RTA is running only between 6 and 9 a.m., and 3 and 6 p.m.

During nonpeak times, the schedule aims for cars every 15 or 20 minutes, Branley said. Like its St. Charles Avenue counterpart, the Canal line runs 24 hours, seven days a week. And, like St. Charles line, waits for streetcars on the Canal line will be longer in the late night and early morning hours, officials said.

For some Monday commuters, the novelty wasn't worth the wait.

One young woman, waiting to hop a streetcar at the cemeteries stop to get farther down Canal where she planned to board a bus to her job in eastern New Orleans, said the streetcar service is "very inconvenient for people trying to get to work."

Downtown Development District hospitality ranger Alfonso Martinez, part of the gaggle of people at the cemeteries stop, was enthusiastic about the new service and predicted it would be a big hit with tourists.

But he gave RTA officials low marks for how they handled him and others who waited and waited. Two of the agency's supervisors and a driver were standing across Canal Street, he said, and none came over to explain the delay.

"People see the lack of customer service," Martinez said. "They view it as, 'This is just for tourists.' "

Not every one of the Canal line's Monday morning customers was depending on the new streetcars to get to work.

Some were older people glad to see the resurrection of the Canal line, which was discontinued in 1964 by New Orleans Public Service Inc., then running the city's transit service.

Among those riding down memory lane was 78-year-old T.K. Schimpf, who began as a motorman for NOPSI in 1945 and moved up into other jobs with the firm over a career of nearly 40 years, and his wife.

"We courted on that streetcar," Catherine Schimpf said.

this post makes no sense.
I'm not arguing a point, just providing background material. If I were arguing a point, I'd point out that the streetcars used on St. Charles Ave. are no longer manufactured and that the cars that were used on Canal St. were small, cramped and uncomfortable. Unlike old-fashioned streetcars which are more comfortable than buses, these are less comfortable. Admittedly, they don't put out the exhaust fumes of buses, but they don't make the noise of streetcars are contribute any of the ambience to the neighborhood that the St. Charles streetcar does. They were, however, just as prone to delays. In other words, the new streetcars offer all the disadvantages of the old streetcars with none of the charm.

Like I said, this is just background material that I provided because those articles would be difficult to find without LexisNexis. I wouldn't argue against either of the existing lines, by I'm leery of any attempt to replace bus lines with streetcars; most people who actually rely on public transportation share that view. When I make a post arguing that point, you're criticism may prove relevant. I don't see how it applies here.
Jesus, this is like reading the Katrinacrat....
Where's my gun?
One more: Yellow Blog April 20, 2004 Slightly Less Reliable Than Walking
Sorry Jeffrey, I was unaware of any NOLA bloggers back then.

D-BB, Yatpundit's comment prompted to alter the subtitle -- just to make it clear that all I was doing was providing background reference material about the new streetcars. I think your beef is with Ashton Phelps, I'll mention it to him next time I see him at a Katrinacrat party.
While you at it, tell Brad, Angelina and the Easter Bunny I said hi.
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