150 More Buses Went Unused in New Orleans Evacuation

If you were the Mayor of New Orleans and you needed busses fast to evacuate the city, would you:

A) Get on the radio and whine that the Federal Government should “Get off their asses” and send some.

B) Pick up the phone and call the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority and ask them if they had any.

We all know what Nagin did. To paraphrase the old movie line, “He chose unwisely.” If he had called the RTA, he might have found 150 city busses that could have been to the Superdome in 10 minutes.

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Some 150 buses that were moved to the Poland Avenue Wharf in the Lower Ninth Ward appear to have fared well, but about 70 of those vehicles were commandeered by the police and fire departments, the National Guard, and in a few cases by individual citizens who used them to evacuate family members, friends and neighbors.

The RTA is in the process of recovering those buses and other unaccounted-for vehicles. The agency has learned that two buses wound up in Lafayette, one in Opelousas and one in Bunkie. Two other buses were found in the Ninth Ward, where residents used them several days for shelter.

In what may be the only bit of good news, RTA spokeswoman Deslie Isidore said it looks like the passengers on the pirated buses “did not lay a finger on the fareboxes.”

They were in perfect condition and the route between them and the elevated interstate was dry the whole time. (see link to wharf) Since the busses were going unused, other people finally found them and commandeered them on an ad hoc basis. To add insult to injury, the city had professional bus drivers to boot!

Although many of RTA’s buses flooded in Katrina, the agency has enough to begin the limited run, Cook said.

And staffing isn’t a problem, she said. Many bus drivers stayed at RTA’s Canal Street office during the storm and evacuated on the Tuesday after the hurricane for shelter in Baton Rouge, Cook said.

“There’s no problem with getting personnel,” she said.

They could have easily put 140 people per city bus. Or, to do the math, they could have moved 21,000 people in a single trip. There were an estimated 20,000 in the Dome. Between these buses and the 60 previously found school busses in Algiers, they could have made it in 1 trip with room to spare.

This -perhaps better than any other example- shows why local officials are in charge of first response and not the feds. Local officials (ahem, the Mayor) should have known who to call. Once they knew there were busses on the wharf, they should have known they were just minutes from the Dome and the areas around the river never floods. (The convention center is also on the river and everyone knew it was fine) Locals know their area (or should) and -in any other city- can manage the response better than some bureaucrat flown in from Washington. Instead of trying to find a solution, Nagin whined that he was a victim.

If Nagin had used the resources available to him properly, he could have had the Dome evacuated by Tuesday at noon and much of the chaos that broke out in the city would have been avoided. But he didn’t.

Note: The Image above (via NOAA) was taken Wednesday, August 31, 2005.

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