Saturday, May 03, 2014
Getting Around New Orleans By Streetcar - Tips and Info
I've never lived in a city with awesome public transportation. (We have city buses in Orlando, but they're not a mode of transportation that most people choose if they have other options, to put it kindly.) The system of streetcars in New Orleans is pretty darn great, though. Their inexpensive cost and convenient routes really open up the city for visitors who would probably only see the French Quarter otherwise. As I mentioned in my hotel review post, parking is crazy expensive in New Orleans, so it's much easier to leave your car where it is and get around this way instead.
This is a screencap of the various streetcar routes from the New Orleans transit website. (The French Quarter is halfway boxed in by that yellow line - Rampart and Esplanade make up the other two borders.) You can use the Canal Street line to visit some of the city's most popular cemeteries or City Park, or take the St. Charles line through the warehouse district, garden district, out to Audubon Park and Zoo, and beyond.
I am by no means an expert, but I thought other NOLA first timers might be able to benefit from what I've learned!
*Get a pass. A one way trip is $1.25, but you can get an unlimited one day pass for $3. The chances that you're not going to take at least two trips are pretty slim... I mean, if you take the streetcar through the Garden District to check out houses, for example, you're also most likely going to want to take one back, right? The pass is also good for the city buses, if you happen to need to go somewhere that the streetcars don't run.
*The day starts at 4. I have no idea what the logic behind this is, but each day's pass expires at 4 a.m. Therefore, if you buy a one day pass on Friday morning at 6 a.m., you have a solid 22 hours of use before it expires on Saturday at 4 a.m. However, if you start out late and buy your pass at 11 p.m. on Friday? Sorry, bro, it's still expiring at 4, so you're only getting 5 hours out of it. I'm actually a fan of the 4 a.m. thing - it means that you can stay out quite late without needing to buy a new pass to get back to your hotel just because it's after midnight.
*Those first two things change. I have a Google doc of NOLA notes that I started a year or so ago, and in it I have the one day pass price noted as $5. I was happy to find it was $2 cheaper than I expected! You can always check the New Orleans public transit website to confirm prices before your trip. As for times, I've seen some reviews that said the passes used to expire at 5 a.m. instead of 4. Take a moment to read your pass when you get it, just to see if anything has changed.
*Buying a pass/ride - As you board the streetcar, there's a handy machine that you can slip money into to purchase your pass. Make sure you have the exact amount needed, 'cause you're not getting change back. I stuck my $3 in and it spit out a little card printed with the date and time of expiration.
*Boarding - Along the streetcar routes, look for the signs like the one above. They're going to be next to the tracks. That sounds obvious, I know, but I looked for one by the sidewalk near my hotel at first, only to have it pointed out that no, you wait out in the median between lanes of traffic (or "neutral ground" if you're from New Orleans) because duh, that's where the tracks are. On some streets the streetcars share lanes of traffic with cars, so those stops *will* be on the sidewalk.
If you already have a pass, you can just hop on - no need to wait behind the people buying a new one, just go around them. The driver never did more than glance at the fact that I was holding a pass (if that).
*Timing - In my experience, streetcars seemed to come approximately every 10 minutes. Of course, there's always variation due to traffic and loading/unloading times, so your wait can be quite a bit longer or shorter. I downloaded a transit app to my phone before my trip that's supposed to tell you when the next one is coming, but I never actually used it. Awesome thing: they run 24 hrs a day!
*Keep in mind... There are only so many streetcars, so during the more crowded tourist seasons (Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, for example) the cars might get very crowded and you may not always get a seat. Also, they were built in the 1920s, which means they are historic and awesome and a little creaky, but it also means there is no air conditioning. You can open a window for a bit of a breeze, but that's not always going to help much on a 90+ degree day.
If nothing else, it's definitely worth the cost of a ride just to mark riding a New Orleans streetcar off your list of things you've done. It's also a great way to see the city! It's much quicker than walking, but they move slowly enough that you get a good view of the sights you're passing. I loved that the passengers on board were a mix of tourists and locals.
Hope these tips helped! Have questions? Feel free to ask 'em! Know a tip I missed? I'd love if you'd share it!