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Citizens Group Reacts to End of NOLA-BR Swift Bus

The State Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) announced they would not renew the LA Swift bus service contract at the end of June. Representatives from the Department of Transportation and Ride New Orleans’ Rachel Heiligman respond to the news. 


Unitl last week, LA SWIFT provided inter-city bus service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge for $5, a substantially lower price than is currently offered by other bus transportation companies.


Started in 2006 as a post-Katrina recovery transportation service to help displaced residents rebuild their homes and livelihoods, it has transformed into a transit connection carrying more than 12,000 riders monthly, the majority of whom use this to commute to work.


But in yet another mark of New Orleans' transition away from post-disaster operations in the wake of the Federal Flood, the service was cut as part of the budget passed this year by the Louisiana legislature. The buses will stop running on June 30.


The service was allotted strictly for hurricane relief, said Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development spokeswoman Jodi Conachen. The agency is no longer in charge of the LA Swift’s operation, she said.


“The State has already finalized and passed their budget so the State is no longer involved in helping the service continue,” said Conachen. “The Federal grant requires matching local funds so those local funds will now have to come from the City/Parish level.”


Conachen also mentioned that the City of New Orleans and the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce have discussed coordinating with Greyhound to offer a discounted NOLA to BR service. The $15 round trip would be a $5 increase of the current LA Swift ride if established.


But a transfer isn't cutting it for Rachel Heiligman, Executive Director of local public transit advocates Ride New Orleans.


“At a time when we should be expanding connectivity between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the elimination of LA SWIFT service will have devastating impacts for its regular riders," Heiligman said.


A survey of more than 300 LA Swift conducted in April by Ride New Orleans, AARP Louisiana and the Center for Planning Excellence showed that about 51 percent of riders use the service to get to work. The industries include health care, construction, hospitality and educational services. One-third of the riders surveyed said they do not have access to a car.


Another 44 percent of riders said they use the service to visit family and friends, and 14 percent of riders use the service to access health care services. 


This data corroborates recent studies showing the increasing connectivity of the Baton Rouge and New Orleans metropolitan areas in terms of economic synergy and a shared workforce. According to a study by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, in 2010, over 26,000 workers commuted on a daily basis from the Baton Rouge metro to the New Orleans metro, while 22,000 workers commuted in the opposite direction making our super region a place where “labor is pooled, and innovation and production are concentrated.”


“Older adults who can no longer drive or choose not to drive often face isolation from family, friends, and supports and services. LA SWIFT provides a critical connection between Baton Rouge and New Orleans for older adults and allows them to remain engaged and live independently.”


Heiligman, expressed the organization’s frustration with the state’s decision to terminate service without trying other options. After all, the survey showed that more than half of the riders surveyed are willing to pay a higher fare than the current $5. Instead of cutting the service all together, Heiligman said it should be expanded.


“It does not appear that the current State administration took into consideration any of the compelling reasons to keep this service running, from steadily increasing ridership, to greater inter-regional economic ties and connected labor pools, to growing congestion along the I-10 corridor," she said.

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