In New Orleans, if you’re trying to blend with the locals, then be sure to call the colorful vintage electric rail vehicles "streetcars" – never "trolleys."
No one knows exactly why or when New Orleanians made the distinction; in most places, the terms are used interchangeably. But the most likely reason for the distinction is the pride that New Orleanians take in being the first city west of the Allegheny Mountains to implement passenger rail service.
In fact, streetcars rolled through New Orleans for more than 60 years before the electric trolley – a device that transmits electric current to the motors – was used to power them.
The distinctive red New Orleans Streetcar is a familiar sight along Canal Avenue — Photo courtesy of JasonParis
Today, there are four active lines: St. Charles Avenue, Loyala/Uptown, Canal Street line and the Riverfront line. And plans to expand along Rampart and St. Claude Avenues into the Bywater are in the works for 2016.
Most visitors gravitate to the St. Charles Avenue line, with its gracious route into the picturesque Garden District and Uptown. But you'll find plenty of locals on the streetcars, as well, using these brightly colored modes of transport to travel to work and school out of necessity, not just fun.
The mahogany seats, brass fittings and exposed ceiling light bulbs are from a day when plastic seats and aluminum rails were not even a thought. Rumbling around the ''neutral ground'' of St. Charles Avenue and and Carrollton Avenue for more than 150 years, the streetcar symbolizes the charm and romance of the city of New Orleans.
The route traditionally forms a 13.2-mile crescent from Carondelet at Canal Street in the CBD into Uptown New Orleans, winding up at Claiborne Avenue. This is the best route to take for sightseeing, as the streetcar passes historic monuments and parks, Loyola and Tulane Universities and the Audubon Zoo.
When it reopened in 2004, it had been 40 years since the streetcar rumbled towards the lake along Canal. The new Canal streetcar takes thousands of locals and tourists to work and play each day, as it travels the five-and-a-half-mile route from the French Market, along Canal Street through the CBD and into Mid-City. The Canal streetcar costs $1.25 each way; it's air-conditioned, as well as ADA compliant.
The line ends at City Park Avenue, across from the New Orleans Museum of Art and City Park’s lovely expanses of gardens and live oaks.
The Riverfront Streetcar travels from the foot of the French Market to the Aquarium and Harrah’s, an area dense with shopping, dining and attractions. Inaugurated Aug. 14, 1988, the Riverfront Streetcar line was the first to open in New Orleans since 1926.