New Orleans will sign an agreement with France’s Veolia Environnement under which Veolia will “finance, manage, and operate” the city’s signature streetcars as well as its bus lines, the Wall Street Journal reports. The deal could save New Orleans 30 percent annually.
New Orleans’ system lends itself to such contracting. Unlike New York’s MTA, the transit system is technologically simple, with straight-line streetcars and buses. On buses, the public’s service expectation is very low, meaning it’s hard — very hard — for a contractor to screw up and offer worse service.
New Orleans has a robust recent history of experimenting with contracting. Since the city began contracting with a private collector to handle garbage pick-up in the French Quarter after Hurricane Katrina, service has been so wonderful as to provoke raves from the public and tourists (really).
New York could break its transit system into simple components, trying a contracting deal for express-bus service, for example.
New Orleans’ willingness to try new things with public transit is more evidence of how difficult it is to categorize the city, which many people were all too willing to write off after Katrina.
But the city has plenty going for it. Young, educated people find the Quarter, the Warehouse District, and Uptown attractive. It boasts a black middle class and a thriving Vietnamese-American community as well as a burgeoning Hispanic immigrant community. Its location halfway between NY and Los Angeles prime it geographically for more film business.
New Orleans’s problem is violent crime — which keeps the city from reaching its potential, as it does with so many cities.
We know exactly what to do to fix crime, as my colleague Heather Mac Donald points out with regards to New York.
It takes political will, though.
But though New Orleans will experiment in some aspects of government, it and Louisiana are too afraid to challenge local orthodoxy and do the tried-and-true with policing, prosecution, and sentencing.
Until it does, better bus service would be nice, but it won’t matter much — because people will remain too terrified to raise a family in one of America’s most beautiful cities, which is a shame.