Rey Saldaña Drops His Keys and Boards the Bus

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Councilman Rey Saldaña checks his phone trying to locate the route he is currently on. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Councilmember Rey Saldaña checks his phone to locate his current route on the bus.

Councilmember Rey Saldaña (D4) made a strong pitch to the public and his fellow council members on Thursday to get on board and give VIA Metropolitan Transit’s bus system a try.

Saldaña, who parked his car Monday and declared himself a bus rider for at least one week, might not have much company right now in terms of business professionals, Millennials and college students who own cars. That’s probably going to change soon.

VIA CEO Jeff Arndt, who appeared before City Council on National Dump the Pump Day, as in gas pumps, announced that VIA’s entire fleet of 450 buses will be equipped with free WiFi by Sept. 1. That’s in addition to the sweeping fleet overhaul already underway that will see the majority of VIA’s buses retired and replace with new, more fuel-efficient and sustainable vehicles.

Suddenly the ride to the city’s higher education campuses may be more appealing to students with Internet access and office workers catching up on email and fine-tuning reports.

Saldaña isn’t the only council member to ride the bus, although he was the only one who showed up with photographs of him at the bus stop ready to load his bike on the VIA bike racks for the ride from his home on the Southside to City Hall. Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (D5) said she rides regularly and thinks it’s easier to board the bus with her child than navigating a child seat in the back of a vehicle. Councilmember Ron Nirenberg (D8) talked about taking his entire staff on a bus ride from his district to downtown, with the bus arriving on time “to the second.”

One evening a couple of months ago, Saldaña said in an interview, he and his wife decided to be adventurous and use the VIA bus as their method of transit to and from their destination on a date night. While waiting at the bus stop, Saldaña posted a photo of himself in front of a VIA bus to Facebook, which generated a considerable response.

Saldaña said people posted on his Facebook thread, and even privately messaged him, writing that they couldn’t believe he, as a council member, was taking the bus. Saldaña said the Facebook incident highlighted a larger problem. If people were surprised that a council member was riding the bus, he said, what does that say about the transportation system as a whole?

Councilman Rey Saldaña scrolls through a transit map showing his route. Photo by Scott Ball.

Councilman Rey Saldaña scrolls through a transit map showing his route. Photo by Scott Ball.

“You go to (Washington) D.C. and you see Congressmen taking the Metro in and out of work,” he said. “Why isn’t San Antonio standing up to say something about how bad this is or how much reform it needs?”

Aside from the shock factor of Saldaña’s bus ride, the incident stirred some community members to challenge him to ride the bus for a month. After hearing numerous anecdotes from individuals who take the bus to and from work every day, Saldaña said, he decided to accept the challenge.

Saldaña spoke of one Southside resident who works as a housekeeping manager at one of the Hyatt Hotels in downtown San Antonio. The individual spends nearly four hours on the bus each day during his commute, a ride that takes 15-20 minutes each way by car.

“He posed the question: ‘Why is there such a bad transit system in San Antonio?’” Saldaña said.

This particular individual, along with a stream of others who messaged Saldaña via Facebook, encouraged him to experience the transit system from a firsthand perspective.

“If this were a different issue that had a middle class or upper middle class constituency, there’s no way we would have stood for this mediocracy with our public transit system,” he said. “An hour and 50 minutes to get somewhere that should only take 10 or 15 minutes … that’s something that needs to be fixed.”

Councilman Rey Saldaña walks to the front of the bus to ask the driver a question about the current route. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Councilman Rey Saldaña walks to the front of the bus to ask the driver a question about the current route. Photo by Scott Ball.

Saldaña’s days are packed. Along with his City Council duties, he’s also the chief engagement officer for KIPP San Antonio public charter schools. He said taking the bus is “not impossible, but it’s really inconvenient.”

Creating a faster, better connected, and more frequent bus line is a feature that all “big cities that consider themselves progressive, smart and efficient and looking forward really need to figure out,” he said.

For Saldaña, a better public transportation system is for one “the right thing to do because there are folks who have no choice and we need to do better for them,” and for two “the smart thing to do.”

He said giving people more transit options will reduce traffic on the major roads and highways while attracting not only working poor people, but people of all socio-economic status. More high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, he said, could be another way for the city to cut back on congestion.

Saldaña said VIA is on the right track with its “Vision 2040” plan, but he would like to see the plan completed at an earlier date. He said VIA’s primary issue is a lack of funding.

Councilman Rey Saldaña removes his bicycle from the front rack of a VIA bus. Photo by Scott Ball.

Councilman Rey Saldaña removes his bicycle from the front rack of a VIA bus. Photo by Scott Ball.

“I would propose there are (financial) opportunities at the city, the county and federal level to help them make that not a 2040 plan, but a 2030 or 2025 plan to get there faster,” he said.

VIA’s “Vision 2040” plan is a comprehensive transportation guide that accounts for the city’s growth during the next 25 years to develop a synchronized system of routes.

Saldaña said more Primo routes, or rapid transit routes, would benefit current bus riders. As of now, VIA has only one Primo route that travels along Fredericksburg Road and Medical Drive connecting the main University of Texas at San Antonio campus to the South Texas Medical Center and downtown San Antonio.

“I’m hoping to be a champion for reform and public transit, but I wanted to be able to speak from first-hand experience and not speak from a glossy report that says ‘this is how you do it,'” he said. “I wanted to put myself in those shoes. I think this will lead me proposing some recommendations to VIA.”

Councilman Rey Saldaña puts his bicycle in an on-board bike rack only available on VIA Primo. Photo by Scott Ball.

Councilman Rey Saldaña puts his bicycle in an on-board bike rack only available on VIA Primo. Photo by Scott Ball.

 

*Featured/top image: Councilmember Rey Saldaña checks his phone to locate his current route.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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30 thoughts on “Rey Saldaña Drops His Keys and Boards the Bus

  1. The way our city is spread out. Rail is too expensive (avg. 50 mil./mile)to extend it due to the sprawl, rush hour only last for and hour and a half. Expanding the VIA is the best option, couple that with more park and rides throughout the city and we should solve our transportation issues.

  2. I’ve been asked if I relied on public transportation in job interviews because it’s so unreliable here in San Antonio; employers are concerned about hiring those who use public transportation. It’s a big problem. I would love to ride VIA, but it’s near impossible with 3 kids and a full time job. I hope Councilman Saldana can create a real interest in helping VIA continue to improve their services.

  3. If we have specific routes for rails that reach out as far as 1604 then that could decrease traffic and accidents by half. Routes from Dwntwn to brooks city base, to Kelly, lackland, potranco n 1604, Culebra n 1604, bandera, la cantera, blanco, stone oak, Judson etc.

  4. I used to ride the bus all the time when I would go to a downtown meeting, lunch or spend time shopping. Then VIA in their wisdom downsized our park and ride to a transit station with very limited parking. In fact if you are not there before seven AM you are not parking there. They have managed to cut out lots of people who used it. And I can still see the still there but unused old parking lot across the road that they don’t service. How is this progress?

  5. All my life to the age of 20 I rode the bus. My mom rode the bus all her life. We would walk 1 mile to the closes bus stop, from Yuma and Palo Alto to Somerset and SW Milartary Dr. to catch Via. I can imagine like us, many low income families still rely on VIA for transportation. My pet pea is bus stops without covers or cover and bents. With all the monies VIA collect in taxes this should be a requirement for all bus stops. The San Antonio sun can wear your down and shaded bus stop should be a must. The improvements of pouring concrete on the bus stop lane is a big plus to SA street nice. As long as San Antonio allows cheap wages in our service economy, we will continue to have poor families that will continue to use VIA as their main form of transportation. Thank you for doing your part to improve the bus system. Now let’s hope VIA takes your suggestions seriously. Good Luck.

  6. Bravo to Mr. Saldana. Does he know what TRUE rapid bus transit is? Our Primo is NOT that. I hope he will go to other cities that have true rapid transit buses and compare the differences between them and what VIA calls our Primo. Then he should come back to pressure VIA to implement it.

    Also, I hope he will realize the inconvenience another VIA plan will be–to force travelers going downtown to transfer buses at either the East Side or West Side Terminals rather than just busing them straight through to the opposite terminal (which would create a non-stop ride rather than a transfer ride. Non-stop is ALWAYS better than wasting time changing buses!!!

    • Agree 100%. For those of us along the route and who were dedicated and involved in the 4 year process, the result didn’t match the initial promise. It goes back to my belief that the our city and by extension, VIA, just wants to “check the boxes” without really looking at (insert name of any big project or idea) proper implementation or maintenance. Granted VIA makes do with criminally low $ compared to our rival Texas cities (this is the fault of the city of SA), but why do something halfway?

      “Do it right.” Those were the exact words I said to Jeff Arndt during a community meeting before the cancellation of the streetcar. Yes, Primo is better than what was there before… but it could have been so much more.

  7. The only hope for decent public transit in this city is to nuke VIA from orbit and start over from scratch.

    It’s beyond fixing at this point.

  8. I have epilepsy and have started to ride the bus to UTSA the closest bus stop to my house is through a drainage ditch (a park?) a mile away. Not a bad walk . But sucks when it rains.

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