Scott Ball / Rivard Report
A stronger economy. More choices about where we live, work and play. A better overall quality of life.
That’s the future that we all want for San Antonio and Bexar County. And we can have it, if we act now to adequately fund our underfunded public transportation network. Adding more mobility options is absolutely critical to ensuring that our region keeps moving forward, especially as 1 million more people will call our city home by 2040.
That’s why Mayor Ron Nirenberg and I have rallied behind the first part of the Connect San Antonio plan to dedicate an expiring one-eighth-cent sales tax to better fund VIA Metropolitan Transit and its VIA Reimagined plan. It’s an essential component to combating congestion and protecting our environment.
The status quo virtually guarantees that we’ll spend more wasted time stuck in traffic. We know from experience that as major corporations consider relocating or expanding to San Antonio, one of their primary considerations is the state of our transit system.
According to estimates from the Center for Neighborhood Technology, the average San Antonio household spends 23 percent of annual combined income on transportation expenses. That’s nearly as much as housing costs, which consume 25 percent of annual income. A robust transit system offers an option to significantly reduce transportation costs.
A state-of-the-art transit system can be the key to upward mobility, in part, by providing more access to education and better-paying jobs. Short commute times are more strongly correlated to upward economic mobility than even racial or income integration.
We can reach the goals adopted in the climate action plan through a strong transit network, in addition to more sidewalks and bike lanes. The revenue from the one-eighth-cent sales tax would provide much-needed operational funding for increased frequency across VIA’s bus routes. A pilot program funded by City Council increased frequencies on 18 key routes. VIA has seen increased ridership on those routes – as much as 30 percent on some.
The agency would also have the funding to operate the first two phases of Advanced Rapid Transit, a future-proof service that uses dedicated lanes, raised platforms, all-door boarding, pre-boarding fare collection, and traffic signal priority. This service would also allow VIA to tap into more federal funding, meaning our local dollars will yield more investment in San Antonio – the $40 million generated form the one-eighth-cent sales tax could possibly yield as much as $321 million in federal funds.
And with Smart Transit, VIA is continually innovating by using technology to increase its own efficiencies, while simultaneously making the rider experience better. For example, VIA has launched a pilot ride-share program on the Northeast Side that uses on-demand services to move people around within the pilot service area or to bus connections. The program has increased ridership in the area while decreasing VIA’s costs, said Jon Gary Herrera, VIA senior vice president for public engagement.
With this funding VIA can provide a convenient, reliable, transportation alternative to address traffic congestion – an alternative that provides a more productive commute as buses are equipped with WiFi so you can check emails, social media or watch a show, or maybe just read a good ole traditional book or magazine.
VIA only uses half of the 1-cent transit tax whereas Dallas, Houston and Austin all opted for a full cent. Houston voters just gave 66 percent approval to a $3.5 billion bond package to significantly expand their transit system, and Austin leaders are contemplating asking their constituents to approve a transit plan that could cost nearly $10 billion.
Sales tax is the only funding source for VIA. Dedicating the expiring one-eighth-cent tax would provide critical annual operating funds to enable VIA to provide a state-of-the-art transit system.
San Antonio has talked about improving its public transportation system for decades. We now have a plan and a ready-to-go funding source. We need to stop contemplating the problem and, instead, begin to implement the solution.