The free trip across the river offered the best views of the New Orleans city skyline and in summer the often breezy mini-cruise offered a way to beat the tropical heat of a summer's evening.
The views and the breezes are still there, but drastic cuts in ferry service hours and the establishment of a $2 fare, each way, has changed the way this sublime amusement is appreciated by the cult of the self-propelled. Gone are the days when, broke and on a whim, you could visit Algiers to sight-see, groove to a festival or compete in quiz night at a cozy Algiers Point bar knowing that unless you stayed way past your bedtime, a ferry would be there to bring you to your home across the Mississippi.
Now, visiting Algiers as a pedestrian or bicyclist via the ferry requires a willful decision and a working knowledge of the ferry schedule to void being stranded for the night on the wrong shore.
Here is that all important schedule, from the nolaferries.com web site. During the daily ferry schedule, ferries leave Canal St. every 30 minutes: on the hour and on the half hour. Ferries leave Algiers Point a quarter (15 minutes) before the hour and a quarter (15 minutes) after the hour. The trip takes about five minutes. No food or drink is available on the ferry or at ferry terminals.
Monday-Thursday: The first ferry of the day leaves Algiers at 7:15 am. It arrives at the foot of Canal St and leaves for the return trip to Algiers point at 7:30 am. The last ferry leaves Algiers at 6:15 pm. The last ferry leaves Canal St. at 6:30 pm.
Friday: The first ferry leaves Algiers at 7:45 am. The first ferry leaves Canal St at 7:30 am. The last ferry leaves Algiers 7:45 p.m. and the last ferry leaves Canal St. at 8:00 p.m.
Saturday: The first ferry leaves Algiers at 10:45 am and the first ferry leaves Canal St. at 11:00 am. The last ferry leaves Algiers at 7:45 p.m. and the last ferry leaves Canal St. at 8:00 pm.
Sunday: The first ferry leaves Algiers at 10:45 am. The first ferry leaves Canal St. at 11:00 am. The last ferry leaves Algiers at 5:45 pm and the last ferry leaves Canal St. at 6:00.
The ferries are fairly reliable but if the river is foggy, they ferries stop running. Board the ferry by walking your bike to the ferry outside the terminal on the metal grate down to the ferry. DO NOT RIDE YOUR BIKE ON THE METAL GRATE!
(Note: Veolia Transportation, the private for-profit company hired by the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) to run the city's buses and now the pedestrian/bicycle ferry at Canal St. and the car ferry downriver at Chalmette, extended ferry operation hours considerably to accommodate Mardi Gras revellers. It might do the same for other large events such as the French Quarter Festival and Jazzfest. Log on to the NORTA site: www.nolaferries.com for the latest schedule changes.)
In late February of this year, pedestrians, bicyclists and scooter drivers began to pay a $2 fare for a one-way trip. Have correct change, each way. Cars are no longer carried on the ferry. Even though the ferry and the buses and streetcars are now managed by the same agency, bus/streetcar transfers are not valid for ferry trips. (Because of the narrow passageways on the passenger ferry, no motorcycles are allowed on the ferry; only scooters.) Pets are OK.
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that even with the slightly extended ferry scheduling on Friday and Saturday nights sampling the nightlife of one side of the river if you live on the other and depend on the ferry for transportation is not in the cards.
But if after a night of too much fun you find yourself stuck on the wrong side of the river after the ferries shut down for the evening, it's not the end of the world. You can take the bus. The RTA bus crossing the river to New Orleans from Algiers is the 101 Algiers Loop bus. The bus stop closest to the ferry landing is at the corner of Verret and Pelican and the last bus leaves at 9:49 pm. (There is an old abandoned Gulf service station at that corner.) The fare is $1.25. The trip takes about 30 minutes and arrives at Elk Place and Canal St.
Each RTA bus has a bicycle rack that holds two bicycles on the front of the bus. First come, first serve. You load the bike yourself. No extra charge for the bike. Visit the RTA web site at www.norta.com for instructions on how to load your bicycle on the bike rack on the front of the bus.
The bus stop at the ferry landing is for the 106 Algiers Local. Do not take this bus. It does not go to the East Bank and New Orleans. It just makes loops around Algiers on the West Bank.
Missed the bus? Time to call a taxi. Make sure the taxi service knows you have bicycle you want to bring. The trip will not be cheap but it will be cheaper than spending the night in a bed and breakfast waiting for ferry service to resume in the morning. Either way, next time you will pay more attention to when your ship leaves the dock.