The New Orleans Streetcar: Tourist Trap Turned Valuable Resource

Throughout my childhood, my mom constantly told me stories of her experience growing up in the Metairie and New Orleans area. My favorite part of her stories was always her account of riding the “trolley” around the city with her aunt. To a young child, it sounded like an adventure. To those familiar with New Orleans, it’s simply another tourist-based mode of transportation that runs through the city.

The streetcar was installed back in 1835, gaining a title of the oldest operating passenger railway system in the world. It started with the St. Charles line that is still functioning today. When the public bus system began rising in popularity, the Canal Street lines were taken out in May of 1964. This looked like the end of the trolley system, but the Preservationists Society was able to petition for landmark status of the St. Charles line to prevent the city from removing it.

The remaining streetcar line thrived, causing the city to install the Riverfront line in 1988, and then reinstall the Canal line in 2004, 40 years after they’d removed it. There are now five lines in the city: St. Charles, the two Canal lines, Rampart, and Riverfront. The main motive for the expansion of the streetcar system was not for transportation of city natives; it was designed for tourists. However, the people of New Orleans use it as a cheap way to get to work or the grocery store, just as they use any public transportation system, something that you wouldn’t see in most cities.

So why take the streetcar? Why not use an Uber or a shuttle, or even walk? The most obvious answer is the price: $1.25 for one ride, $0.25 per transfer. There’s even an app, RTA Go Mobile, that you can purchase tickets on, saving you from having to have exact change.  That’s not the only pro to taking it, though. Listening to the rattle of the tracks and watching the city roll by is not an experience you can get on any other mode of transportation in the city.

There’s a convenience aspect to the streetcar as well. Hopping on the streetcar on St. Charles in front of the Gibson Hall takes you straight to the heart of the French Quarter, and taking the Canal Street line from there can take you further in the Quarter or a bit beyond. Experience the history in a way that you can’t from an Uber, yet in a faster way than walking.

COVER PHOTO: Justin Haber

Leave a Reply