Below you will find a report on the RTA Ride Along that went down last week. We wanted RTA officials to experience the three hour commute of late night New Orleans workers who live in the East.
Four members of the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Committee met with three RTA members at 11:45pm on Wednesday May 10th at the corner of Esplanade and Frenchmen Street. This ride along/field study had been discussed since our first initial meeting with the RTA and we had made it clear that this was an opportunity for RTA officials to experience the commute of a hospitality worker who works downtown and must take the Night Owl to get to their home in the East.
We had said from the beginning that we wanted RTA officials to experience a twenty-five minute walk that one of our committee members has to take every single day to get to his bus stop at Elk Place and Canal Street. Hospitality workers have to walk twenty-five minutes after a long shift where you never have a chance to sit and we wanted to do our best for RTA officials to feel this pain. However, as soon as we arrived to meet RTA officials they attempted to opt out of walking by suggesting to take a near by bus and transferring. Walking to Elk Place and Canal would be faster than taking the suggested transfers of RTA officials. After a long shift, every worker is looking for the fastest route home.
RTA officials made it clear that if we had chosen to walk to Elk Place and Canal Street to catch the Night Owl that it would be just that—a choice. This was frustrating because walking twenty to twenty-five minutes is not a choice for hospitality workers. RTA officials took advantage that we chose a meeting location near a bus stop and attempted to ignore our demand of walking and then taking the Night Owl. Taking the Night Owl was a critical aspect of this ride along as the Night Owl consolidates three routes into one route and only runs on the hours, making the commute for one of our committee members three hours. This is not a choice and not acceptable.
RTA officials also showed annoyance at us being a few minutes late. This was also frustrating for as a hospitality worker, you never know exactly what time you be leaving work. You only have a rough estimate of the time you will be leaving and sometimes you miss the bus because of this. We also wanted RTA officials to understand this.
We ended up missing the bus that RTA officials urged us to take instead of taking the original plan of action. We walked to Elk Place and Canal Street and the Night Owl arrived at 1:07am and the bus left at 1:20am so that it could wait for more riders. We were on our way to Little Woods, where one of committee members lives. In order to cut his commute time, he got out at the intersection of Crowder and Lake Forest and walked twenty minutes to his home in his uniform. This was at 2:20am. If the committee member chose to ride the route instead of walking twenty minutes to his home, it would have taken an hour and a half more.
Along the walk, RTA officials said things like, “The fact that you don’t know what time you’ll be getting out of work is a factor out of our control.” This is true, but a factor the RTA can control is having buses come every fifteen minutes so that workers can have a faster commute. Another factor the RTA can control is having more bus stops so that workers do not have to walk such a far distance, adding time to their commute.
The RTA officials also pointed out how there weren’t that many riders on the Night Owl and that more buses with no riders would lose them money. The street cars run all night with very little riders, so how is that acceptable but more buses is not? It costs $130 to add a bus to the road. That is not a lot of money to spend towards the wellbeing of the 88,000 hospitality workers that allow this city to function. Many hospitality workers have friends and family pick them up from work, spend money on parking, or spend money on a taxi or Uber to get home. We are sure that after conducting hundreds of surveys that workers would take public transit if it were more efficient and reliable.
RTA officials did note that is was unacceptable for our committee member to have to get off and walk twenty minutes in the night in order to cut down his commute time by an hour and a half.