Beginner’s Guide to New Orleans Public Transportation

 

Streetcar view2

Do you shy away from New Orleans public transportation?

The thought of using public transportation has always intimidated me.  How does it work?  What is the schedule?  Do I need exact change?  Where do I put the money when I board?  Is someone going to help me or just stare at me as I board and try to figure out the process?  That’s part of the reason why I have never ridden the trolley in San Francisco or the subway in New York City.

But why would I feel that way?  I mean public transportation is a common way of commuting in other cities like New York, Chicago and Washington D.C., but growing up in New Orleans, I had never considered it.  That all changed when an friend from Colorado who happens to be a public transportation aficionado turned me on to the ease and convenience of using buses and streetcars in our big, little city.

I live in the Garden District just a block off of Magazine Street so both the Magazine Street bus and the St. Charles streetcar are within walking distance of my house.  I now tend to use the bus more because: 1.) It’s closer to me; 2.) It’s air conditioned (which is good for the summer months); and 3.) It’s usually less crowded.  However, the street car is more scenic because it doesn’t have the advertising wraps covering the windows like the bus has on it.

bus

Either way you can’t go wrong.  The RTA’s website www.norta.com has all the information you need.  You can check the schedule of the route you want to take, and it will tell you what time the bus or streetcar will be at your stop throughout the day.  (There is a mobile app as well if you would prefer to use it.)

Now don’t expect the bus or streetcar to always be on time.  This is a part of the charm of the experience (or the frustration, depending on your point of view).  It seems to me there is about a 50/50 chance that it will be at your stop on the time stated, but it’s usually within five minutes or so.  I would suggest being at the stop about five minutes before it is supposed to arrive.

I usually take the bus when I’m headed downtown so I don’t have to worry about limiting my drinking, nor do I have to deal with parking in the French Quarter.   It’s a straight shot for me, meaning I don’t have to take any transfers or switch to another bus.  The cost is $1.25 for a one-way ride (less for seniors and the disabled).  It’s a great deal compared to what you would pay for parking in the Quarter, a ticket from a meter maid or an Uber or taxi ride.

I would suggest bringing exact change because if you don’t, you will get change in the form of a credit towards a future ride.  If you need to transfer to another bus or streetcar, tell the driver when you get on, and he or she will give you a transfer voucher for $.25.  Board the vehicle, put your money in the slot, and bam, you’re good to go.  Before you get to your stop, just pull the rope that surrounds the top of the interior of the bus and that will notify the driver that you want to get off.  The last stop closest to the French Quarter is on Canal Street by the Sheraton Hotel.

Family streetcar

I find the bus and streetcar very useful when there are big events going on like French Quarter Fest, the Sugar Bowl or even a Saints game.  Keep in mind the streetcar is more fun, especially when friends are visiting, but it’s definitely more crowded on the weekends AND the closer you catch it to downtown, the more crowded it will be.  It’s possible that a full streetcar will pass you up and you’ll have to wait for the next one.

Now I will say this: I don’t usually take public transportation back home, only because I’m impatient at the end of the day and don’t feel like waiting for it to arrive. So I bus down and Uber back, but that’s just me.

 

Tips:

  • Check the schedule during Mardi Gras and other events as the street cars and buses don’t run down St. Charles and Magazine during parades.
  • Bring exact change or otherwise you get change in the form of a credit to be used for a future ride.
  • If you are transferring to another bus or streetcar, ask the driver of your first ride for a transfer which only costs $.25.  Keep in mind the transfer needs to be used within 2 hours.
  • 1-day, 3-day and 31-day passes are available for unlimited rides.  A 1-day jazzy pass only costs $3.00.
  • The Magazine Street bus operates from 5 a.m. to 12:15 a.m.  The streetcar is 24 hours.
  • The buses have bike racks on the front so you can take your bike to your destination.

 

Rachel Sigur is Director of Production at Fox 8 WVUE and a converted fan of public transportation in New Orleans.