By: Matthew LaBorde, Transport for NOLA intern
“So, today you’re like a tourist in your own city.”
Sheila Jones, a woman who has been riding New Orleans public transportation for 31 years, was correct in her assessment. I sat on the bus across from her with a note pad, a camera, and a nervous look on my face.
I explained to her that I had never ridden the bus before. She replied, almost defensively, saying, “This was my life at one point. This was all I had to get around from the East.”
Sheila’s tone lessoned as she shared stories of her family and growing up in New Orleans. I moved myself to sit next to her on the bus and listened more attentively as she recounted her experiences riding the RTA before and after hurricane Katrina. She started to talk to me as if I were one of her children, addressing me as “Matthew” and laughing at my lack of experience with public transportation.
“Look here,” Sheila scrolled through the RTA website on her smart phone and showed me it’s features. “It’s really pretty simple,” she said as she showed me how to check when the next bus would arrive at any given stop.
Being the newest addition to the all-star team of interns at Transport for NOLA, learning my way around New Orleans public transportation was at the top of my priorities.
I rode the streetcar as a child but it never occurred to me the streetcar and buses were a viable form of transportation for getting around our city. Now, after a full day of riding the bus from Lakeview to New Orleans East and back, I gained an appreciation for public transit in New Orleans and learned from skilled riders the amount of trust they must give to commuting via the RTA system.
Sheila went on to explain to me not only the importance of public transit, but also the importance of a person she met in her 31 years of riding.
“You see her?” Sheila pointed in the direction of the driver, “That’s my only friend.” Sheila didn’t use the term “friend” lightly explaining that she only attached it to those who she could trust the most.
Her trust in her best friend, her attachment to the woman who had taken her from point A to B for 31 years could relate similarly to the deep trust she’d developed for public transit in New Orleans – a trust that has not wavered despite service decreases post-Katrina.
She wasn’t alone.
On my trip out to New Orleans East via the Hayne line, I met another rider who wished to remain anonymous. He was around my age, 20, and is a part-time student at the UNO Lakefront campus.
“You don’t ride much, do you?”
After explaining to him that it was my first time, he told me how he remembers riding as a young child. Laughing, he said, “So, you know, I’ve ‘been around the block’ a few times.”
This man trusted the system, he was adamant about its services and stern in his explanation of his daily usage of the bus. Something that I as a first time rider still has difficult time understanding.
After winding my way through New Orleans East, completing my first transfer onto the Morrison Express, and then hopping on the Canal Street Car to complete my trip, my exploration into public transportation in New Orleans has only begun.
When the Lakeview bus picked me up to bring me back to where I started, I met again with Sheila’s only friend, the driver of the 45 line.
With a big smile on her face she asked, “Did you have fun?” I slipped my Jazzy Pass into the machine and laughed at her excitement for my travels: “Of course. I had a blast.”