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Chairwoman's Message 5-12

Message from the RTA Chairwoman

The U. S. Department of Commerce recently reported that the number of people in poverty is the largest number in 50 years. Census data revealed that the poverty rate and the number of people in poverty increased across lines of race, gender, age and marital status.  For New Orleans, 2010 Census data revealed that 24.4 percent -- over 84,000 citizens -- live on incomes that are below the poverty level.  Of these, 83 percent are citizens of color.

As the link between the neighborhoods of New Orleans and the business centers in the city and the region we play a vital role in helping to alleviate poverty. We connect the job seeker to employers. We get the citizens of New Orleans to work. We see them every day. We see the hopeful job seeker in the morning and too many days we see the rejected job seeker in the afternoon. We greet the workers in the morning and deliver them safely to their neighborhoods in the evening. We see the high school students that are preparing themselves for the labor market. We know that in New Orleans three in every ten of them will drop out and reduce their economic chances to slim and none.

At the RTA we move over 50,000 citizens every weekday.  Notably, 82 percent of our customers are citizens of color, 65 percent have an annual income of less than $25,000 per year, 55 percent are women and 58 percent have no access to a car. Of these approximately 80 percent are either on their way to work or to school preparing for tomorrow’s workforce. Over 97 percent of bus riders are local citizens and with the exception of the Riverfront Streetcar over 80 percent of streetcar riders are residents of New Orleans. It’s easy to notice the wide-eyed passenger hanging out the window with camera in hand and think that tourists are our main focus.  But for every tourist we serve there are eight New Orleans’ citizens riding public transit.

As an employer we spend over $3 million in payroll every month for over 560 employees. We pay a fair wage for a fair day’s work and many of our employees participate in collective bargaining through the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). We’ve recently implemented an Innovative Workforce apprenticeship program for unemployed and underemployed workers in the region to learn streetcar maintenance skills, because preparing our youth to attain transferable skills that lead to living wage jobs is a responsibility that every public employer in New Orleans can and should embrace.

The federal funding for rebuilding our city has helped to bolster the local economy, however the challenges of the current economic climate make our role as  the link between small businesses and opportunity  as critical as our role as the link between job seekers and jobs.  We connect visitors to retail centers to stimulate spending and expand the sales tax base.  We create opportunities for blight reduction and community economic development through investments in transit infrastructure.  However, as a true economic engine we must view economic development as more than access to jobs and growth of the local tax base. We must view economic development as the creation of opportunities for equitable small business growth and development. It’s about more than the movement of people across town, it’s about the movement of people up the economic ladder.

As a federally funded agency we are required by law to ensure nondiscrimination in the award and administration of contracts; create a level playing field on which businesses owned by minorities and women can compete fairly; help remove barriers to the participation; and assist the development of businesses that can compete successfully in the marketplace.  On non-federally funded projects we have an equal commitment to leveling the playing field for all small businesses, regardless of race and gender. As with the federal mandate, it is a responsibility that we take seriously.

We are proud to say that our operators drive more than vehicles -- that we help to drive the economy of New Orleans and the region. We are proud to say that the investments that we make in infrastructure and capital projects impact human capital and not just bricks and mortar.  At the RTA we’re on track to improve the quality of life for the citizens of New Orleans through equity and fairness in transit services, career-path employment, and economic opportunity for small businesses.

Barbara C Major, Chairwoman

Regional Transit Authority Board of Commissioners

RTA Facts:
97% of bus riders are local residents
80% of streetcar riders are local residents
83% are minority residents
65% annual income $25,000 or less

55% are women

58% have no access to a car

Reprinted from letter for The New Orleans Tribune, May 2012.

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