River Parishes Transit Authority celebrates one year

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 24, 2010



LAPLACE – After a little more than a year of providing shuttle service to the residents of St. John and St. Charles parishes, officials with the River Parishes Transit Authority say they are ready to expand.

At a brief ceremony Thursday afternoon, Board Chairman Brent Petit announced plans to add an additional 12-passenger shuttle bus to the fleet of four already in commission. He said the new vehicle, which could be on the road as soon as May, would be added during peak hours in an effort to accommodate more passengers and trips.

“If there is one thing our ridership has asked for in these last 12 months it is more service,” Petit said. “We are prepared to do just that with this new vehicle.”

Aislinn Costello, operations manager for the RPTA, said the bus system, which links to an existing transit system in St. James and also connects to transit systems in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas, has transported more than 17,000 riders on roughly 13,300 one-way trips throughout the region with an average of 65 to 70 trips per day. The system only operates three of the four buses regularly with one serving as a spare. Costello said adding a fourth bus on regular road duty would help when scheduling gets tight.

“There are times where customers have to work around our scheduling system in order to get rides at a certain time,” said Costello. An additional shuttle will definitely give us more flexibility to accommodate everyone.”

Although the buses have only been on the road for about 14 months, Petit said the transit system has been in the works since 2001, when the parishes established the board. He said board members spent years studying feasibility and researching grants before any funding could be secured.

“Our congressional representation, which includes Sens. David Vitter and Mary Landrieu, as well as Gov. Bobby Jindal on various levels, were pivotal in helping to secure state and federal grants to get this thing off the ground,” Petit said.

The RPTA has contracted with Veolia Transportation, a company that runs public transit systems in Jefferson and Orleans parishes, to oversee operations. Parish governments in St. John and St. Charles pledged $125,000 for three years to go toward the service’s annual operating budget of $1.2 million. Additional funding comes through state and federal grants through the Department of Transportation, the Federal Transit Administration and the United Way.

The current service is an on-demand bus system, which means riders must contact a dispatcher to book trips 24 hours in advance by calling 985-651-1141 or toll free 877-651-1171 weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. The bus picks up anywhere within the two parishes and will pull up to people’s front doors. Costello said estimated pickup times are given based on the number of reservations and routes. The buses operate Monday through Friday from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The shuttle service also has a designated drop-off or pick-up at the Louis Armstrong International Airport, which allows passengers the opportunity of service in Kenner, Metairie and beyond. It also connects to St. James Transit, but Costello said riders must give two days notice so RPTA can coordinate with the St. James Transit schedule.

“Our ultimate goal with this is to one day come to a time where full size buses roll up and down this stretch of road in front of us,” Petit said as he pointed out to Airline Highway.