You will often see, in those vignettes of New Orleans that precede commercial breaks during prime time Saints football games, or the Super Bowl, or TV shows about New Orleans or perhaps even NBA All Star games, camera shots intended to capture, in a few moments, the vibrancy of the city. You’ll see a man playing a brass instrument with a tip jar. You’ll see the Cathedral and folks walking around Jackson Square. You’ll see crawfish or oysters or shrimp being eaten and Dixieland jazz playing in the background. It’s like “Hey! Here we are and this is what we do!”

What you often also see is transportation. Because often, cities are defined by their modes of public transport and these become icons of those cities. Trolleys in San Francisco, bridges in New York, in Los Angeles they have…well, forget Los Angeles.

In New Orleans, streetcars are often shown. But if you pay attention, you will notice the Algiers Ferry is shown quite often also. Usually flanked by GNO bridge with the river undulating in the background.

I don’t blame directors for framing the city up this way. It’s a great shot. Particularly so when one is actually out there on the river experiencing it. Lit up by the sun during the day or in the glow of the city at night, it’s a unique way to see the New Orleans holistically, yet from within.

With a quick shot of the ferry, a narrative can be told in one second. The premise is, “Look at New Orleans, this venerable city on America’s most vital waterway. Look at its robust culture and how it moves its citizens from one place to another across this great, historic river. Here is this vast expanse that previously would stop human migration right at its banks but here, now, daily, in the great city of New Orleans, the citizens can simply ride their bicycles onto a ship and cross the river whilst sipping cocktails from plastic cups. How glorious is humankind?!”

But of course, it is a lie. It’s just for TV. Like so much of New Orleans is becoming these days.

The reality is the ferry is a symbol not of the vibrancy of public transportation but of its abandonment.

Where we are now with it is Veolia Transportation, a private company in France who runs bus lines in the city for the Regional Transit Authority, has taken over the ferry operations. And in spite of the initial declarations of having a “goal of” a return to original hours, the current language is “would consider … based on.” So no timetable as to when and, based on how pitiful the City and State government’s dedication to the ferry has been, its easy to think probably never.

And these hours are crucial. The expectation is the ferry needs to be made viable financially in spite of the fact that the product being provided isn’t worth the price they are asking. Yet it must be paid for for it to eventually be. Huh?

For instance, a monthly pass is $65. The value for such a pass increases greatly as hours are increased and decreases as they are reduced. Am I expected to just pony up the money to city government and then hope the hours increase one day?

Also, as it relates to value, what will be the recourse when I purchase my monthly pass and the ferry breaks down, as it has many, many, many, many, many, many times? The value then goes down even more.

So if the ferry is trying to be sold as having to generate a profit to make up for the budget shortfall, ( + whatever Veolia is making) what sort of business model is it to provide a “product” that runs half as much as it ran before and often doesn’t run at all? Just how much faith in Veolia Transportation are the people of New Orleans supposed to have? I would sooner put $65 in a collection plate at the local church and hope I get to heaven before paying for the current level of service being offered.

And pardon me if I am distrustful. But after the fiasco that was the Crescent City Connection bridge tolls vote last year, I have a reason to be. The miseducation of many New Orleanians was that voting yes to the tolls would have funded and ensured the ferries operation long term. But that wasn’t the case in the first election as the ferries had been decoupled from the bridge tolls before the election. Word didn’t get out about that nearly as quickly as the notion that preserving the tolls would save the ferry and the extension actually passed (with the help of a little East Bank snobbery I think).

But the election was so close and so seemingly reeking of some sort of bambozzlefication not related to the original boondogglery of the miseducation of the voters, that a revote had to be cast and the tolls were eventually shot down for good.

I’ll also add that the habit of linking the ferries to the tolls was still not broken even in that second election as people were still saying we needed bridge tolls to run the ferries even in spite of the fact that no one had ever written anything guaranteeing such. It was all just more “hope for” and “goal is” and “dependent on.”

You can read any article on the ferries including this one from TODAY (Feb. 17, 2014) and look at the comments to see that the myth that the tolls would have funded the ferries persists still.

But hey, it’s not like there wasn’t bamboozlery of some sort happening even when the ferries were attached to the bridge.

So not only is the product we are receiving for our $65 not up to par, the “manufacturer” of the product so to speak can’t really be trusted.

So let’s just leave the whole ferry operating with a business model thing aside for right now. Because it almost seems designed to fail.

The new stance by any civic-minded person motivated by this ferry fiasco should be: The ferry needs to be a free, public service that needs to be restored to its original hours with the “goal of” 24 hour service like streetcars.

Each day, people of New Orleans have to endure the hassle and the appropriation of our streets for movie companies because they help the local economy and the money goes…somewhere.

Year after year we endure the closing of streets and the traffic nightmares brought on by events like the Sugar Bowl and the Super Bowl and the NBA All Star Game and political conventions and music festivals that disrupt our lives constantly and the money goes…somewhere.

We endure the increasing encroachment of a tourist-based economy driving out businesses and replacing them with T-shirt shops and huge double decker buses driving through our neighborhoods and see our true culture replaced with a “version” of our culture and the money goes … somewhere.

We are force fed projects like “Reinventing the Crescent” which promises it will “reconnect us to the river” and is hailed as an “essential public investment.” Yet, no where in the plan was it thought that perhaps being on a ship that crosses the river may be a unique way to truly reconnect to the river from both banks. And $300 million in public money (that could have funded the ferry for decades) for that project goes … somewhere (or maybe into the hands of Bywater / Marigny developers).

We have to listen to testimonies in the trials of our former Mayor (and many more before him) who funneled money into the pockets of themselves and cronies millions of dollars of public money that goes … well we know where it went.

No one should accept doing “more with less” in New Orleans right now. We have heard story after story of how vibrant our recovery has been and entrepreneur this and cultural economy that. Yet, something as vital as a historical method public transportation is being reduced?

Businesses in Algiers have suffered. Real estate in Algiers has suffered. Workers in Algiers have suffered.

The Algiers Ferry needs to be free and it needs to run all the time. Find a way. Ferries all over the world are paid for by governments. It is a public service.

That’s what Algiers needs for its low wage workers to get to and from their jobs in the CBD /French Quarter. That’s what the employers of these people need to see their employees make it to work each day regardless if they are working days, nights or graveyards. That’s what tourists need to have a pedestrian thoroughfare across the river and back and experience New Orleans as a whole. That’s what people in Algiers who want to leave their cars at home and bike or walk across the river need to experience East Bank food, music, parks, museums, nightlife, administration. It’s what New Orleans needs to continue to provide for its entire populace.

Ordinary people are becoming activists over this.

8 Responses to “The Algiers Ferry: Great Public Service, Bad Business”
  1. Kevin Herridge says:

    A brilliant piece!!! My business, like many others on the Point, is suffering due to the reduction in ferry hours. My B&B guests arrive, hoping to go out for a nice evening meal in the Quarter, only to be told they have to be back by 6.30pm! And how can a Mum on minimum wage afford to take her children over for what used to be a “free” walk round the Quarter so that her children may soak up their culture when they could be expected to have to part with $20 in ferry fares? It’s all very sad whichever way you look at it.

  2. Varg says:

    Thanks Kevin. I hope we can get it resolved soon.

  3. Algerine Exile says:

    Quit your bitching and offer a solution. It’s really easy to find fault with the world (especially when you live here in New Orleans), but I don’t see a single constructive suggestion in your post. I am a SCREAMING LIBERAL, buddy, but the fact that you claim to love the ferry so much and yet think it should be free makes me want to join the Tea Party. Why the Hell should the ferry be free?! Because you want it to be so? I can’t think of any actual logical arguments, so I am assuming that’s the best ya got. Oh, and PLEASE educate your readers further by citing other cities that run free ferry services. I’ve never heard of one. And BTW ferries in Seattle start at about 6 bucks a trip, per person. Same in Sydney. Crossing the Hudson River from New Jersey to Manhattan (which is about the closest analog to the Mississippi River ferries in NO) starts at about $9 a trip, each way FOR PASSENGER TRAFFIC. Even adjusting for cost of living differences, you can’t even begin to compare the contribution those riders are making to the health and longevity of their cities’ services to what we are currently doing. Those cities with what I am sure you think are astronomically high fares all have healthy, stable ferry infrastructures; think it’s a co-incidence?

    Stop expecting a hand-out and make an investment in your community. If you aren’t willing to do that, then shut up and live with what you get.

  4. Varg says:

    The Staten Island Ferry, the MOST FAMOUS FERRY IN THE WORLD, is free…

    The GVB ferry in Amsterdam is free…

    The CityHopper Ferry in Brisbane is free…

    You were saying? What were you saying? It wasn’t hard to find those ferries. Do your research.

    And if you call yourself a screaming liberal (with Tea Party leanings?) why are you so pleased to have a city service placed in the hands of a private company like Veolia?

    Ideas have been suggested. Advertising, taxes, snack bars, on the ferry and in the landing.

    No one wants to do it because people are too willing to just fork their money over to Veolia where it goes in their pockets over seas.

    It is you, anonymous sir, who has given up. It was free for years, it should stay free. After all the waste we see in government, I am not going to budge. Get out of the way if you can’t lend a hand.

  5. Varg says:

    The Brussels ferry in Illinois is free…

    The Merrimac Ferry in Wisconsin is free…

    The Hatteras-Ocracoke Ferry is free…

    The Bainbridge Island Ferry in Seattle is free…

  6. jeffrey says:

    Galveston Island ferry is free

    Runs 24 hours

  7. Cousin Pat says:

    I like how the government wants us plebes to pay when we use infrastructure services, but taxing big business for the same things is hurting “job creators.” We already pay for the ferry – through our income taxes and sales taxes and property taxes to the state. The state funds the DOT for roads, bridges, rail, and yes ferries. Every major business moving to NOLA gets some sort of tax cut or tax break. Movies, theatre, new Wal-Marts, Costcos, Winn-Dixies, whatever. Time to give the people a tax break and keep the ferry free.

  8. Christian Day says:

    I don’t really care whether the ferry charges or not and would pay it willingly but I do wish it ran all the time. I own a shop in the French Quarter and my fiancé and I would totally buy a house in Algiers Point (and are still considering doing so) but we’re reticent due to the drama of parking, traffic. If that ferry ran at least till midnight, we’d be a lot more likely to purchase a home there. I feel terrible for the businesses over there and I think more people should be as outraged as you are. The moderate number of restaurants, pubs, coffee shops, etc. that I saw in my drive around the point will be facing closure eventually if their business in any depends on tourism from across the river. What then? I’m outraged for that neighborhood and I don’t even live there yet. Perhaps there’s a way to leverage the national media into this conversation. Conversations sometimes change when bright lights are applied to them.

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