Yesterday's demonstration at the Transportation and Airport Committee meeting went as well as to be expected. The committee reacted similarly to the way in which the RTA reacted- thanking us for sharing and offering to meet with some committee members.
We feel as though the meetings will play out the same as they have with the RTA and that our demands will be labeled as 'unrealistic' and claims that funds are unavailable.
With New Orleans being the 7th tourist destination in the world and with hospitality workers generating $7 billion in 2016, we know that the funds are there. We will get the public transit we need and deserve.
Below you will find the statement read at yesterday's meeting and the follow up demands sent via email to council members Jared Brosset, James Gray, Susan Guidry, Nadine Ramsey, and Jason Rogers Williams. All meetings and interactions will be on public record.
I am speaking today on behalf of the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Committee and the 88,000 restaurant and hotel workers that hold up the city of New Orleans. The current public transit system in New Orleans is a disgrace. The infrequency of the buses and lack of bus stops force workers to walk up to twenty-five minutes and typically create a commute of one to three hours.
Restaurant workers are often both in uniform and carrying cash—making us feel vulnerable and unsafe. We are sick and tired of a transit system that only caters to tourists. The $75 million Rampart streetcar line was merely a move to expand the downtown area. The streetcar line actually decreased the accessibility workers have to their place of employment because there are less streetcar stops than the previous bus stops along Rampart.
New Orleans natives are being forced further and further out of central New Orleans due to rising rent prices and gentrification. Specifically, many Black folks have been pushed out to the East, Algiers, and the West Bank. The extremely poor public transit that y’all provide to these areas reflects your lack of concern for the Black community. This, without a doubt, is a civil rights issue.
One of our committee members faces a three-hour commute when getting off work past 12am. He has to walk for twenty-five minutes in uniform just to catch the Night Owl, which only comes on the hour and consolidates three routes into one. He will often get off the bus early and walk twenty minutes to his home in Little Woods to cut his commute time by an hour and a half. This is a 24/7 city and y’all must efficient 24/7 public transit.
As you may or may not be aware of, we have been bringing these issues to the attention to the RTA and attempting to work with them to correct these failings. The RTA recently conducted a field study where they attempted to walk in the shoes of a hospitality worker. Three RTA officials, five committee members, and a RIDE employee walked for twenty-five minutes in order to catch the Night Owl. RTA officials failed to ride out the entire route and got off when our committee member got off early to cut his commute time by an hour and a half. The RTA officials said things such as, “we can’t control that you don’t know exactly what time you’ll get off work” and “there aren’t enough riders for these buses to be more frequent.” They then concluded that we weren’t aware of all the options for late night travel to the East, even though all of their options were not nearly efficient enough.
Low ridership indicates poor public transit. Many workers arrange for family members and significant others to take them to and from work or spend money on Uber/taxis because of the long commute time and because of there being absolutely no inexpensive place to park. What is the explanation for the streetcars being able to run at all hours of the night with a very low amount of riders? The RTA may not be in control of the inconsistent schedules of all hospitality workers, but they can control their ability to provide buses that work with the scheduling of the 88,0000 hospitality workers.
The RTA cries about a lack of funds and points their fingers in your direction and I’m sure y’all will do the same. It is not an issue of lack of funds, but an issue of prioritizing. New Orleans is the 7th tourist destination in the world and restaurant and hotel workers generated $7 billion in revenue last year. The money is there.
We are also aware a bill awaiting Gov. John Bel Edwards' signature would allow the RTA to form public-private partnerships for facilities projects. We understand that the RTA, appointed by the Mayor and under state law, is a non elected board created to float loans in order to avoid the legal cap on indebtedness although the public is obligated to repayment of loan. Why would we, the public, pay for something that does nothing for us? How is it that we generated $7 billion last year yet Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world and one of the worst public school systems in the country? We demand that this money goes back into the community and one way of doing this is providing acceptable public transit.
These are our demands:
1.) We need buses that come every fifteen minutes day and night.
2.) We need more routes and for these routes to be geographically expanded. Stop consolidating the routes at night.
3.) We need more bus stops in the downtown area or free shuttle services so that people do not have to walk a long distance, take a taxi, or have to get rides from friends and family.
4.) We need a response time for when you will get back to us with a revised plan that meets the needs of hospitality workers.
Attached you’ll find the statement that members of the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Committee read during yesterday’s Transportation and Airport Committee meeting.
Our four demands are included in the document. We expect all of our demands to be met in a timely manner, but the following needs to be met by the next Transportation and Airport Committee meeting on July 17th:
1. Return the Night Owl to its regular routes. This means you will no longer consolidate three routes into one.
2. Extend the hours/frequency of the Night Owl between 12am-2am and 4am-6am.
We understand that you all cannot meet with us at one time. Please respond with possible times to meet and discuss what y'all can do to make public transit serve the 88,000 hospitality workers of New Orleans.
The New Orleans Hospitality Workers Committee