In so many cities where public transportation is looked down upon, or even shunned, one of New Orleans’ modes of public transport is not only famous, but is much beloved too. And that public transport is, of course, our green and red streetcars, that run along St. Charles Avenue, Canal Street and the Riverfront.
First lesson on riding a streetcar, is to get the name right. No, it’s not a “trolley”, “cable car” or “train”; it always has been, and always-will-be known as a “streetcar”. In fact, the familiar two-word refrain that is still heard up and down the routes, is “Streetcar coming!” that has been hollered from those who first spot it in the distance or from countless porches and stoops to warn others to hurry up because it’s almost here.
The streetcar system dates back to the around 1830, when the first lines began running in various parts of the city. In fact, one absolutely amazing (and mostly unknown fact even among locals) is that the St. Charles line is the oldest continually operating railway system in the world! Back in the mid-1800s, they were pulled by mules and began being electrified around 1893 and many of the green cars that you see running today are equally-amazingly from the 1920’s.
And it’s always quite an eclectic assortment of people that you’ll see riding the streetcars…from the Uptown elite in seersucker suits and designer dresses heading down to work in CBD banks and law firms…to school kids…to waiters and servers in tuxedos and bow ties heading to French Quarter 5-star restaurants…to wide-eyed tourists. But one thing that you’ll find in common along the routes, is the kindness and good manners that’s often on display here. Men still get up to give their seats to ladies, or to older people and folks with infirmities…and lots of riders often talk and laugh with neighbors and strangers alike. In fact, tourists are quite often amazed at the friendly banter and talk they encounter on the routes…and the locals are always happy to help tourists with finding their stops and telling them stories about the history passing by.
The streetcar fare each way is $1.25 and you MUST have exact change when boarding and have it ready to deposit in the fare box. For the first time riders, the streetcar operators will be happy to show you how to deposit it, but they cannot and will not give out change. So just be ready to board with the correct change and grab an available seat if you’re lucky enough to get one, even though you might not always be seated next to each other. There are also $3 daily unlimited ride passes available from the conductors if you ask.