Crisis - Katrina and What We Have Learned

By Barbara C. Major – Chairwoman RTA Board of Commissioners, Justin Augustine, III – CEO of Veolia Transportation Services Inc. in New Orleans and Marc Popkin, Risk Manager, Veolia Transportation Services, Inc. in New Orleans

Just one year after the RTA unveiled its new Canal Street streetcars, Hurricane Katrina attacked our great city. The devastation to the RTA system – buses, streetcars, paratransit fleet, facilities, system and employees – was beyond belief.

The damage to the city's infrastructure made providing service extremely challenging. Making matters worse, many of our people left the region and with their departures carried decades of operating and maintenance knowledge and experience.

The RTA's employees worked incredibly hard to restore partial bus service within 60 days and partial streetcar service within six months. We gradually increased service levels and began to restore operations as best we could under very difficult circumstances.

Our rebuilding began in earnest in 2006 and our reinvention continues today. We have made enormous progress and hope we can share it with you while you are here. The rebuilding experience has taught us many valuable lessons about the importance of enhanced emergency preparedness for a transit agency:

  • Evacuation Planning – We have developed even more rigorous crisis plans to evacuate the public, transport employees and maintain the RTA fleets in safe areas until an emergency passes.
  • Electrical Grid Design – Working with FEMA, the RTA redesigned the electrical system above the flood lines' highest level.
  • Rapid Communications – The RTA maintains a Mobile Command Center which contains communications channels for all operations and core technology to function off-site during an emergency. In the Mobile Command Center, the RTA is able to maintain payroll, run dispatching and scheduling, and operate all administrative systems during an emergency.
  • Training – All RTA employees have been trained in evacuation and asset protection procedures during times of severe weather or other crisis situations.

Katrina provided the RTA with many lessons, but our biggest challenge now as we operate in this vibrant city is keeping up with the growth and the needs of our passengers. 75 percent of the population has returned to the city. Our ridership has increased 20 percent a year for the past three years. Our streetcar lines are growing and by next summer our major streetcar expansion on Loyola Avenue will connect the Canal Streetcar line with Amtrak and Greyhound at the Union Passenger Terminal.

Working with Veolia Transportation Services Inc., which operates and manages the agency under contract to the RTA board of commissioners, the RTA is committed to continue to improve its service quality and ensure that our safety, security and crises management plans are optimized.