Algiers Ferry closure impacts local businesses


An RTA bus waits on passengers to board at Algiers Point. With the ferry out of service, more people have been forced to take the bus recently. Photo credit: Andres Fuentes

Tess Rowland

Phillip Kilbarger is the lead cook at Dry Dock Cafe, where he’s been working with his sister for eight years. With the Algiers Ferry not in service, restaurants and businesses at Algiers Point have seen a decrease in business.

“We survive off tourists here,” said Kilbarger.

Kilbarger has seen a dramatic cut in hours and pay. He used to work 40 hours a week, but now he’s down to 30 hours. That decrease in hours makes him nervous about being able to afford living costs.

“You just have to cut out any of your free time and do whatever it takes to pay your bills,” said Kilbarger.

The Col. Frank Armiger vessel was pulled off the Mississippi River at the beginning of October for mechanical issues that were not immediately detailed, said transit officials.

With the Armiger being off the water, in addition to the second ferry undergoing routine maintenance, there is currently no ferry transporting passengers from Algiers Point to Downtown New Orleans, and business owners and employees at Algiers Point say they are suffering.

Ronald T. Casey, owner of the Dry Dock Cafe, has had to cut back hours for some of his employees, but believes his business will remain afloat due to the support from the local Algiers community.

“Servers and bartenders work minimum wage and make their money in tips, if there’s no business coming in, they’re not getting the money. And consequently if there’s no business, I don’t need as much kitchen staff,” said Casey.

Closing the kitchen early preserves lost revenue, but Casey is sympathetic to how hard the changes have been on his staff.

Kilbarger has even thought about looking for another job, but he would need the ferry to make the commute.

“Most of the available jobs are across the river, and then I would have to take the bus and that could take an hour or so. Why would you want to do that?” said Kilbarger.

As of now, RTA buses are the only form of public transportation available, with buses running every 30 minutes.

“The RTA buses don’t run as efficiently as they could, it’s hard to make a bus run across the river with bridge traffic,” said Ian Barrio, owner of Congregation Coffee.

Barrio believes that because of the ferry being out of service, his business is down by as much as 15 to 20 percent.

“It’s tough. It affects the employees getting back and forth to work, which affects our business hours and just being able to run the business in general,” said Barrio.

Barrio has also had to cut back hours for some of his employees.

Two new ferries were built by a company called Metal Shark over a year ago. They were supposed to replace the aging and unreliable boats that had been carrying passengers back and forth on the Mississippi. They were completed over a year ago, but remain docked after failing safety inspections, according to RTA transportation officials.

Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer wants to see the new ferries on the water.

“The reason we were so excited as a community for these boats is that studies show when there is new infrastructure on the water, ridership is increased by 30 percent,” said Palmer.

She blames poor planning and maintenance on the part of RTA as the cause of the issue. Her office is working to see that the Armiger is back on the water in the upcoming weeks.

She is also working to promote businesses at Algiers Point by providing better marketing tools, partnering with the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation to create promotional videos, and developing bus shelters with RTA that would promote businesses by listing their addresses and advertisements.

The Algiers Economic Development Foundation is also seeking to help out local businesses by incorporating small business into the Algiers annual bonfire on Dec. 7.

“We want to try and incorporate as many small businesses in Algiers to make sure folks coming out are putting as many dollars as they spend back into the economy,” said Lileth Winkler-Schor, Program Director of the Algiers Economic Development Foundation.

In addition, Algiers has recently joined the New Orleans Complete Streets Coalition which works to develop roadways, making them safer for pedestrians and bikers.

“Algiers Point is our most commercial and most walkable area, so with the ferry being down we have seen a big impact on small-businesses,” said Winkler-Shorr.

As of now, there is no set timetable for when the Armiger vessel will be repaired and for when the two new ferries will be put in service.

Andres Fuentes and Jade Myers contributed to this report.