Richard Rainey | The Times

Magazine Street is bustling, with its coveted storefronts and crowded sidewalks. Buses along this Uptown corridor come about every 19 minutes, or sooner during rush hour.

In the Upper 9th Ward, the shuttered Club Desire, once a bastion of New Orleans’ music before Hurricane Katrina, falls apart at the corner of Law and Desire Streets. Around it, empty lots and blighted houses alternate with homes rebuilt after that storm. The bus passes once every hour and 10 minutes, even at peak hours.

A report released earlier this week detailing the gap in wait times and the number of weekly bus trips among New Orleans neighborhoods questions whether scarce transit service has slowed the recovery of some communities.

That’s likely to be a key issue as the Regional Transit Authority, its passengers and city residents in coming months debate plans to expand some routes and how to raise millions of extra dollars to keep service growing as the costs of operations continue to rise.

It’s overly simplistic to say that buses and streetcars alone account for a community’s development, but public transit experts and advocates say there’s a connection. Called “transit-oriented development,” the thinking goes that building commuter centers, where bus routes, bicycle racks, walking paths and carports intersect, boost commerce and real estate nearby.

The RTA and the private company that runs it, Veolia Transportation Services Inc., have said they provide as much service as possible with the resources available. Hurricane Katrina slashed the number of passenger trips generating $1.25 fares from 34 million in 2004 to fewer than two million in 2006, according to the National Transit Database. Ridership climbed to around 13 million paying riders in 2012, but still a far cry from pre-storm levels. That drop continues to cut deeply into the system’s revenues

Nevertheless, Veolia expanded bus service in January and plans to do so again in September, adding more buses and new routes – improvements that reflect the city’s continued recovery. Read more