Getting Around New Orleans: Guide to Public Transportation

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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 the new Le Pass app, New Orleans is an even easier city to traverse using 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 cost $1.25 for a one-way trip. 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 of times during your trip. Jazzy Passes go for $3, $8, $15, and $45 and include buses.

Le Pass App: You can now ride all NORTA transportation using the Le Pass 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 at 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 the central business district (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 from 6 a.m. to midnight. The frequency of the streetcar depends on the line and time of day (check the NORTA website or app for schedule details), but it is usually between 15 minutes to 30 minutes.

Accessibility: Most 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 a.m. to 7:40 p.m. 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 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

From the Airport: The 202 Airport Express Bus leaves every 70 minutes from airport parking in Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport 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 every 30 minutes from the airport terminal and drops passengers in the CBD. The Jefferson bus costs $2 and does not run on weekends (NORTA passes and the app cannot be used with Jefferson Transit Authority buses).

Canal Street Ferry
TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

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, you will unlikely use this service unless you spend 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 traveling 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 Le Pass app. Jazzy passes also work on the ferry.

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 a.m. to 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 guides, 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 an hour or a flat $15 rate for the month. The city is improving bike safety and usable bike lanes but take caution riding, especially at night.

Alternatively, rent a bike for your trip at Alex's bikes in the Marigny, Dashing Bicycles in Mid City, or different spots throughout the French Quarter.

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 to or lower than Uber and Lyft.

Renting a Car

If you plan to leave the city for day trips or frequent trips outside the main downtown area, renting a car in New Orleans can be worth it. Brands like Enterprise, Hertz, and Avis have outposts at the airport, on Canal Street, and in other areas near the CBD.

Tour Companies

If you plan to venture to swamps 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

  • Walking, biking, or pedicab is almost always faster than driving or cabbing in congested city areas. 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.
  • 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.
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes (and sunscreen), carry some cash for cabs, and charge your phone before leaving for festivals.
  • 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.