SADOW: Overdue End Coming To Gov’t-Paid Louisiana Bus Service

There’s no reason to end the LA Swift service. But there’s every reason to end any state or local government involvement in it.

LA Swift is the bus service, heretofore paid entirely by the federal government and by small passenger assessments that vary between $4.40 and $5.00 a trip, between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The idea was, after Hurricane Katrina, to provide an opportunity for those displaced from the New Orleans area to have access, perhaps even be employed, in the area while temporarily housed in Baton Rouge or select points in between. The federal government put up all the funds, presently about $2.3 million a year.

Over the years, naturally enough, the program began to mutate beyond its original purpose and thereby expand. While a ridership survey showed the majority of rides involved getting to and from work, nearly half were reported as occurring for visitation purposes, and some for health care reasons. Only a third did not have a private car to use for transport. It also promised some amenities in traveling, such as ability to view televisions, wireless connectivity, and the ability to transport bicycles. It grew into eight round-trips on weekdays, five during weekends with more limited stops, serving over 12,000 riders a month and thus promoting the following possibility.

Say you’re tired of going to both bars in Sorrento; on a Saturday after closing them the night before you can be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the stop to slap down your sawbuck and hop the bus at 1:19 PM, get off at the main library in New Orleans at 2:23 PM that gives you a solid three-and-a-half hours to get smashed in time to stumble back to board again at 6:15 PM and you’re awakened back in Sorrento at 7:35 PM with plenty of time to go out and revisit your glory of the night before. Your tax dollars are at work here.

However, the federal government changed the rules beginning the state’s next fiscal year which now would require that other governments cough up aorund $750,000 annually to sustain it. Further, that cannot be gathered as part of the fares. As a result, the state’s Department of Transportation and Development, which oversees the program, pulled the plug. Unless both the transportation agencies of the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas want to pony up, the service ends in fewer than three weeks.

While a number of special interests bemoan this development, if there’s truly genuine need, there’s no reason they can’t make some kind of deal to come up with the scratch. Better, ridership levels such as they are, this means the current subsidy is about $16 a rider and actually much closer to $8 a ride since almost all should be round-trips, meaning a private sector operator probably could do the whole thing for $25 round trip.

And that’s what should happen if there’s real demand there. Ridership will fall at a 150 percent higher rate, which could moot this possibility, but the survey said about half of respondents would pay a higher (unspecified) rate to use it. The state already contracts this out, so (as long as the Public Service Commission quickly approves) a private operator seamlessly could pick up service.

If that doesn’t happen, there’s no real loss. After seven years, if displaced people haven’t moved back to New Orleans (perhaps 100,000 didn’t) and still have jobs there, maybe it’s time they got one locally or moved back. Otherwise, why are taxpayers subsidizing individuals who wish to live in one place and work in another? Visitations can be done on their own dime as well. And there are few to no health care cases that are so unusual that they could not be serviced in both of these large metropolitan areas.

Maybe for a couple of years this was an acceptable arrangement, but it clearly has outlived its usefulness as far as taxpayers go. Either it stands on its own or it’s really not that desired, and taxpayers should not foot the bill for others’ lifestyle choices.

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