The historic streetcar is both an iconic symbol of New Orleans and a practical way to travel, transporting visitors to popular destinations like the French Quarter, St. Charles Avenue, and the city’s famous above-ground cemeteries. New Regional Transit Authority (NORTA or RTA) operates the streetcar lines, as well as numerous bus lines and two ferries. With the addition of a new NORTA GoMobile app, New Orleans is an even easier city to traverse by means of public transportation. Here are the best ways to get around New Orleans.
How to Ride the Streetcar in New Orleans
Streetcars (rail-guided trams) have long been a favorite method of transportation within New Orleans, with four main lines that extend through the city’s popular neighborhoods. Many tourists consider the St. Charles Streetcar line a destination in itself, taking riders on a historic trip through the mansions and live oaks of beautiful St. Charles avenue, Loyola and Tulane University campuses, and Uptown’s Audubon Park.
Fares: Both streetcar and the NORTA bus costs $1.25 for a one-way trip ($1.50 with a transfer). You can pay with cash when boarding, and will be given credit on a pass if you don’t have exact change.
Jazzy Passes: pay a flat rate for unlimited rides, in 1-day, 3-day, 5-day, and 31-day increments, if you plan to ride the streetcar more than a couple times during your trip. Jazzy Passes go for $3, $9, $15, and $55, and include busses.
NORTA GoMobile App: you can now ride all NORTA transportation using the NORTA GoMobile App. Not only can you use it to pay for passes on all forms of transportation, but you can also map your trip, access schedules, and track when the next streetcars, busses, and ferries are arriving to your location in real time.
Routes and Hours: Streetcars run the length of Canal Street from the river to Mid City; one line ends at the Mid City Cemeteries (#47), and the other at City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art (#48). The St. Charles line runs the length of St. Charles, from CBD to Uptown, and then up Carrollton Ave. in Uptown. The Rampart-St. Claude Streetcar runs from the French Quarter to the Faubourg Marigny. Canal and St. Charles Streetcars run 24 hours; the St. Claude Streetcar runs 6 am to midnight. Frequency of the streetcar depends on the line and time of day (check the NORTA website or app for schedule details), but is usually between 15–30 minutes.
Accessibility: The majority of streetcars (and all buses and ferries) have motorized lifts and straps for accommodating wheelchairs. The exception is the green streetcars that run on the St. Charles Avenue line (these are designated National Historic Landmarks, and have not been updated). All streetcars include priority seating areas. Visually impaired riders can bring service animals on board the streetcar, and stops will be announced audibly. Visit the NORTA website for more paratransit services.
Riding the Bus in New Orleans
With 34 bus lines running almost 24 hours, RTA Buses are a convenient way to get to neighborhoods stretching beyond the parameters of the streetcar routes, or to connect to a streetcar or ferry.
Routes and Hours: Buses generally run every 30 minutes, with shorter wait times in busy areas. The airport express (202) bus runs from 3:45 am to 7:40 pm. Other hours vary; buses on busy thoroughfares like Claiborne Ave. can run all night, but most in touristy areas like the CBD, Marigny, and Garden District run from about 7am–11pm.
From the Airport: The 202 Airport Express Bus leaves every 70 minutes from Airport Parking in MSY, and runs to the CBD (passengers staying in the French Quarter can connect to the streetcar). Additionally, Jefferson Parish (where the airport is located) runs the E-2 Airport Bus, leaving every 30 minutes from the MSY Airport terminal and dropping passengers in the CBD. The Jefferson bus costs $2 and does not run on weekends (NORTA passes and app cannot be used with Jefferson Transit Authority busses).
Taking the Ferry
There are two ferry services in New Orleans: one connects Chalmette (east of New Orleans) and Algiers (on the West Bank of the Mississippi) and allows cars. Since there is also a traffic bridge to the West Bank, it is unlikely you’ll use this service unless spending some serious time in the areas east of New Orleans.
The more popular Canal Street ferry takes riders from the French Quarter/CBD to the Algiers Point neighborhood across the Mississippi River. This ferry is pedestrian only (pets, bikes, strollers and scooters are allowed), but travelling within the French Quarter and Algiers Point is very easy without a car.
Rates: The ferry costs $2 cash (have your payment ready when boarding), or you can use the NORTA app. You can also purchase 5-day ($18) and 31-day ($65) passes with the app.
Hours: The ferry leaves on the quarter-hour from the East Bank/New Orleans CBD and on the half-hour from West Bank/Algiers Point. The ferry runs 6:00 a.m.–10 p.m. on weekdays and Sundays, with extended hours (and larger ferries) in operation during Mardi Gras and large festivals. The ferry is punctual; plan to arrive about ten minutes before departure.
Route: The Canal Street ferry station is located just past Harrah’s Casino, next to the boardwalk and Aquarium of the Americas. The ferry makes a short trip across the Mississippi and lands in the small neighborhood of Algiers Point, where you can easily walk to bars, restaurants, and along the river path.
Bikes and Pedicabs
Pedicabs are popular throughout the French Quarter, CBD and Warehouse District, making them a nice choice for short trips in high-traffic areas. Pedi drivers are friendly and usually function as part-city tour guide, providing information and recommendations within the neighborhood.
New Orleans now has its own bike-share program: eye-catching Blue Bikes are easy to use once you register online, where you can also see a map of hubs and even reserve a bike at a certain location ahead of time. Pay $8/hour, or a flat $15 rate for the month. The city is making improvements in terms of bike safety and usable bike lanes, but take caution riding, especially at night.
Bikes are allowed aboard the ferry and on buses (loaded onto a front rack), but not on the streetcar.
Rideshares and Taxis
Uber and Lyft are widely available throughout the city and are often more affordable and convenient than renting a car. Expect surge prices during big events like Mardi Gras.
United Cabs is the most trusted New Orleans taxi service, and even has its own app to compete with the likes of rideshare services. Especially during peak times, try United for rates comparable or lower than Uber/Lyft.
Renting a Car
If you plan to leave the city for day trips or make frequent trips outside of the main downtown area, it can be worth it to rent a car in New Orleans. Brands like Enterprise, Hertz, and Avis have outposts at the airport, and on Canal Street and other areas near the CBD.
If you plan to venture to swamps, plantations, and other popular destinations outside of the city, but don’t wish to rent a car, tour companies like Gray Line and Cajun Encounters can organize transportation and provide tour packages to destinations on your list.
Tips for Getting Around New Orleans
Within the French Quarter and CBD, Walking, biking, or pedicab is almost always faster than driving or cabbing. You’ll spend much more time stopped in traffic—or trying to navigate narrow, one-way cobblestone streets—in a car, than you will on foot.
Getting Around during Mardi Gras and Festivals Expect congestion in certain areas during peak festival times. If you’re willing to walk a little ways out of the congested zone to look for a cab or ride, you will be rewarded. Good rules of thumb before heading out for festivals or parades: wear comfortable walking shoes (and sunscreen), carry some cash for cabs, and charge your phone.
During the height of Mardi Gras season (Fat Tuesday and the week or so leading up to it), a “box” is created around much of central New Orleans: cars and taxis can’t cross the parade route during parades, and much of the city is essentially cut off from travel by car. Download a parade-tracking app during the Mardi Gras season to help plan your way around the city.
Account for delays and slow service when taking public transportation. Buses and streetcars are by no means the fastest way to get around New Orleans—but if you’re looking for ease in the Big Easy, they are a fine choice.