New Orleans grapples with continuing Algiers ferry issues

Written by Nick Blenkey
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TV station 4WWL showed this sign at ferry terminal in recent coverage of impact of ferry closure on Algiers residents and businesses

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) Board of Commissioners have issued an update on the ongoing work by the RTA to restore ferry service for Algiers residents, business owners and visitors.

Algiers business owners have been hit hard by the continued closure of the service (see video below).

“We’ve been presented a range of options, none of them ideal, but RTA has been diligent and transparent in their efforts to explore each option,” said Mayor Cantrell. “That includes working to get old boats back into service, examining affordable and reasonable charter-service options, and ensuring that the new boats we inherited from the previous administration can pass inspection.” She added that “”we are confident that through this work, RTA will be able to provide ferry service by the end of the year. We’re also working on ways to offset the economic burden this has placed on our Algiers businesses.”

Board Chairman Flozell Daniels, Jr. said, “This situation is a multi-layered problem, involving many parties, and is not remedied easily. We are unified in our responsibility to provide service that’s adequate as soon as possible, and are holding staff leadership accountable to do so. Thank you for your continued support as we establish a path forward.”

The RTA is holding a special board meeting on Monday, Dec. 9, to finalize the selection of the RTA Ferry Operations Contractor. The ferries are currently operated by Transdev, in partnership with the State of Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. Moving forward, the ferry service will be incorporated under the Regional Transit Authority, as are all bus, streetcar and paratransit operations.

This selection will allow RTA CEO Alex Wiggins and the rest of the RTA leadership team to move forward to negotiate a charter ferry service until the new boats are ready for service.

RTA says that maintenance challenges – and a lack of funding for maintenance – have undermined some of this work. The Armiger, the Thomas Jefferson and the Levy ferry boats remain in dry-dock undergoing repairs.

After passing Coast Guard inspection last week, an attempt to return the Armiger to service last Thursday was scrapped after a new failure arose during river tests on Wednesday.

“This continues to happen each time the Armiger comes out of maintenance for one issue; another one is discovered.” says RTA. “The boats are well past their life-span and they continue to fail despite repairs.”

The RTA has the support of Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson for the use of ferry fund dollars for a charter ferry service. This allows the RTA to enter into an agreement with a charter operator to restore service. RTA has continued to research ferry operators and boats nationwide, but says that finding a vessel has proven more difficult than expected.

There are minor issues on two new boats delivered earlier this year that are planned to be fixed by the original builder. These issues arose from three surveys that have been completed on the boats.

“Fortunately, all three surveyors’ findings identified no fatal flaws with the boats,” says RTA, which is still expecting the new boats to be ready for service by the end of the year.”

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