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LA Swift Supporters Seek Long Term Funding

Keeping the commuter bus between New Orleans and Baton Rouge running will likely require private interests on both ends of the line to pony up, according to officials. On Thursday, the state announced it was extending operations of LA Swift for one more month to give local entities a chance to come up with enough money to fund the service. But that doesn't mean the service is funded. With City coffers tight both in the Crescent City and Red Stick, in-kind donations will be required to keep wheels on.


The bus, which runs between New Orleans' Union Passenger Terminal and Baton Rouge, was created in the wake of the Federal Flood to allow for transit between the two cities for displaced residents and commuters. However, the federal funding runs out at the end of the state's fiscal year on June 30.


By extending the service through July, the state Department of Transportation and Development also agreed to use one-time funding to cover the cost of the service. After that funding, the service is staring down a tab of $750,000 per year that must be picked up by locals. And due to regulations put in place by the Federal Transit Authority, even increasing the $5 fares wouldn't cut it. Local entities are required to match funding with the state, and the money for a ride cannot cover that money, according to the state.


For the short-term fix, organizations like the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce and the Greater New Orleans Foundation, as well as local businesses from both cities, are looking to raise money that would cover the cost for the next year. The City may also kick in some money, said City of New Orleans communications director Ryan Berni.


"There may be an 'in-kind' local match given that the City owns the Union Passenger Terminal, where there is a pickup and drop off point," Berni said in an e-mail.


But that only solves the problem in the short-term. The bus service has the backing of Mayor Mitch and the New Orleans City Council, who passed a resolution Thursday calling on the service to remain in place, as well as leaders in the business community in both cities. The gap created when the state's one-time money runs out will also need to be filled. That could lead to fare increases, or contributions

of additional state money. In the meantime, the City has also asked the Regional Planning Commission to look into potential funding sources, Berni said.


The local transport advocacy group Ride New Orleans recently conducted a survey that showed 51 percent out 300 riders used the bus to get to work, and another 17 percent use the bus to access health care services. Organization director Rachel Heiligman is confident that the short-term fixes will fall into place.


Heiligman believes the new funding scheme could also be an opportunity for improvements to the bus line, said Rachel Heiligman, executive director of transit advocacy group Ride New Orleans.


"The service really could benefit from some refinement, and perhaps even some expansion," she said.


In Baton Rouge, the bus currently doesn't stop on LSU's campus, or in downtown Baton Rouge, Heiligman said. By adding stops, the bus service could expand into an even more realistic transit option that would reduce congestion on Interstate 10, Heiligman said.


Stephen Babcock contributed to this article. 

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