We, the members of The New Orleans Hospitality Worker Committee, attended the RTA’s public meeting on the morning of March 28th to demand more frequent and reliable buses between the French Quarter and New Orleans East. We brought up the issue of the Night Owl, the bus that runs between the Quarter and the East after 12am, taking riders an average of three hours to get home. There is only one stop for riders to access, located at Elk Place and Canal Street. At the end of their shift, hospitality workers from all over the French Quarter and CBD are required to walk a great distance to stop, and then wait, sometimes for up to an hour, for a bus to bring them home.
We came to the meeting to raise our concerns in a civil manner. However, once it became clear how the board meeting agenda had clearly shifted in a way to silence the concerns of our committee, we decided to take a stand. We got up from our chairs, waved our banners, and voiced our issues. We were then forced out of the room. Those of us who didn't need to rush to work—to do the work required to keep this city’s tourism sector alive—were allowed to return to make public comments.
Committee member, Peter, a restaurant worker from the East, explained that after midnight, three bus routes turn into just one so, it often takes him three hours to get home after work. “Or,” he told the RTA board members, “I can get off and do a 45 minute walk, which isn't the safest thing at that time... I just think that something needs to be changed.” Another committee member, Lita, told the board, “There need to be more frequent buses and more buses stop. There should also be shuttles throughout the Quarter taking hospitality workers to and from their place of employment to their transit stop or car.” Gavrielle, another committee member, reminded the board members that, “88,000 hospitality workers and their families make up half the population of this city, yet public transportation is only concerned with the image it presents to this city’s tourists. Imagine a day without hospitality workers.” I think we all are aware, a day without hospitality workers would bring New Orleans to an absolute standstill.
We need to realize that New Orleans, as a city, should consult its hospitality workers often regarding matters of transportation. We are its life force, and we cannot continue to carry this city without proper and safe options for public transportation. Workers are walking targets as they are typically dressed in uniform and are often carrying cash.
Budgeting is prioritizing, and the money for safer, more frequent bus service between the Quarter and the East, Algiers, and the West Bank is clearly there. If the city can use taxpayers’ money to both build a new streetcar line for the French Quarter and its tourists, they can also afford to provide safe, frequent buses to those workers in the East who spend all evening parking cars and bussing dishes. It should also be clear that the poor public transit in between these areas of the city is a civil rights issue. Rising rent prices and gentrification continues to push New Orleans natives, especially its black citizens, further and further out of the city.