Castle Hills Holds Town Hall to Opt Out of VIA’s Bus Service

Print Share on LinkedIn Comments More
Citizens address the Castle Hills City Council on the matter of stopping VIA service. Photo by Andrew Moore.

Citizens address the Castle Hills City Council on the matter of stopping VIA service in July 2014. Photo by Andrew Moore.

Should the VIA Metropolitan Transit bus service be eliminated in Castle Hills?

This question was the sole subject of last night’s town hall meeting at Castle Hills City Hall. Like the other cities embedded in San Antonio, Castle Hills pays a half-cent sales tax in exchange for VIA bus service. Now some officials and residents are questioning whether that money can be put to better use – specifically for the city’s streets.

“We in the last few years have been looking for acceptable ways and ideas to finance the infrastructure and maintain the streets of our city,” Acting Castle Hills Mayor Timothy A. Howell said. “We have tried committees and door-to-door comments as in our last election and a bond that failed in our recent election.”

Howell wants to do several fact-finding town halls to investigate how the money spent on VIA could be used in other ways. Howell also wants to hear citizen feedback on the proposal before a question is created for this November’s ballot. The town hall gave 20 minutes for VIA to make their case and 20 minutes for a consultant from the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts to give alternate options. Council members John Squire, Frank Paul, and Douglas Gregory were present, while Lesley Wenger was absent.

“We want to remain serving the citizens of Castle Hills and those that want to travel in and out of Castle Hills that may not live here but definitely pay either the fare or will spend money in your city and pay sales tax,” VIA senior vice president of public engagement Charles A. Gonzalez said. “You have to take into consideration what is the true cost in the quantity of life, commercial enterprise, and the impact on transportation for citizens and especially VIAtrans citizens.”

VIA representatives at Castle Hills City Hall speak to VIA bus service in the city. Photo by Andrew Moore.

VIA representatives at Castle Hills City Hall speak to VIA bus service in the city. Photo by Andrew Moore.

If the city stops paying for VIA, all VIA bus stops and shelters will be removed from Castle Hills – unless they are needed for San Antonio service – and VIA will no longer stop in Castle Hills for patrons living in or out of the city.

According to VIA’s website, the bus routes affected by the change would include 2, 97, 534, 550, 551, 602, and 651. VIA’s presentation at the event stated that Castle hills has 84 bus stops which see an average of 901 daily boardings on weekdays. The presentation also stated that VIA has seen a total of 289,834 boardings so far this fiscal year. Additionally, the City of Castle Hills has 59 clients registered for the VIAtrans Service – a  curbside service for persons with disabilities. If VIA left, those disabled persons would lose bus access as well.

According to the attending Texas Comptroller consultant, Ty Myrick, Castle Hills has a myriad of options on how they could otherwise use the available half-cent tax. They cannot, however, just redirect the money to street maintenance. Under state law, a city can levy a one percent tax for use on just about anything – which Castle Hills has already used up – and can levy up to two more half-cent taxes on special projects by creating a “municipal development district.” Unfortunately, those projects don’t include street maintenance.

Texas Comptroller Consultant Ty Myrick addresses Castle Hills City Council. Photo by Andrew Moore.

Texas Comptroller Consultant Ty Myrick addresses Castle Hills City Council. Photo by Andrew Moore.

“It really is not designed for building streets or maintaining streets,” Myrick said. “It’s more for other types of community development or other types of infrastructure development that attracts businesses specifically.”

Myrick says the city may be able to use a municipal development district to shift some tax money towards an existing development project – freeing up cash from other sources – but that isn’t a long-term solution. Pulling the plug on VIA would also keep Castle Hills from adding to their existing financial obligation for VIA maintenance, which Gonzalez said now totals $396,742. Council members used the question-and-answer phase to challenge the validity of the figure and Councilman Gregory expressed special displeasure that some of that maintenance fee may go to political lobbying, but the city might still have to pay all the same.

About 35 citizens signed up to speak at the town hall, though not all appeared when called. And while many protested the lack of factual information from VIA – specifically on what would happen to existing bus routes if VIA stopped service – even more citizens urged the council not to stop the service.

“I need the bus service to go to grocery stores such as the H-E-B here on West Avenue, the pharmacist, my doctors that are located inside Castle Hills, and any of the other businesses that I go to,” Patricia Ann Spaeth said. “If you were to stop VIA, myself and many others that patronize the businesses here won’t be able to get there and that will result in lost revenues to your sales taxes.”

“If that bus stops, my husband and I will have to quit our job and find some other place to live,” Tiffany Morris said. “Everyone at Subway, where I work, takes the bus. If you cut that service we have no jobs. That Subway will have to close and move somewhere else because they don’t pay us enough to get cars.”

The fact that bus service impacts local business was a constant theme. Local Burger King franchise owner Robes St. Juste also expressed fear that losing VIA would especially hurt his business.

“It’s been mentioned here a couple of times how much we do rely on VIA to move our employees as well as our customers,” St. Juste said. “If VIA was not here and we had to make the decision today, we would have to think really hard before investing $2 million dollars to put that building there.”

While not all citizens were in favor of VIA, many just wanted more information before making a decision, and there is sure to be at least one more town hall on the subject before the issue is decided. The meeting continued on after reporter Andrew Moore left at 9 p.m. Tuesday night, but by that point no citizen had requested that the bus service be cancelled.

“I think that the citizens of Castle Hills need to make a decision. We need to vote on this issue and get all the information we can, so we appreciate everyone’s input.” Sylvia Gonzales said. “Nothing is carved in stone yet.”

Featured/top image: Citizens address the Castle Hills City Council on the matter of stopping VIA service. Photo by Andrew Moore.

Related Stories:

How Streetcars Fit into Transportation Safety

Clearing the Air at Streetcar Town Hall Meeting

The Future of Transportation in San Antonio

Streetcars and Bus Rapid Transit Will Speed San Antonio’s Transformation

18 thoughts on “Castle Hills Holds Town Hall to Opt Out of VIA’s Bus Service

  1. Politicians working for their own agenda without considering the effect on everyone else. Idiots…..

  2. As technology and social sharing services like Uber and Lyft advance, the idea that VIA should be the exclusive mode of transportion become less and less compelling.

    • The sales tax collected in Castle Hills that goes to VIA does not cover VIA’s entire cost to provide the service in Castle Hills. That was documented in some of the coverage of the meeting. Also, taking people to their jobs and customers to businesses is hardly a drain.

  3. Thank you for covering this event, even though it might not officially appear to be a “downtown” issue and outside the usual beat of the Rivard Report. I live in Castle Hills, near Blanco Rd. I went to the meeting last night, and I oppose the idea of discontinuing VIA service, even though I am not a VIA bus user and use my own car to travel the Castle Hills streets, and I do see that we need to fund street maintenance.

    Castle Hills must stay part of the integrated fabric of San Antonio and its transportation network. Parts of Castle Hills almost qualify as a walkable city, but this proposal would rip up the existing bus lines and make havoc for anybody trying to travel along the perimeter main thoroughfares, like Blanco, Jackson-Keller, West, etc.. If I understood what they said last night, service would continue on the San Antonio side of the street, but would end on the Castle Hills side of the street – really? How do you do that?

    I’d like to consider expanding VIA bus service in Castle Hills, not discontinuing it. We really need even more VIA bus service than is running now. When you don’t need the bus, sometimes you forget about the folks who do, especially if you don’t see the effects directly. For instance, Castle Hill City Hall where the meeting was held last not does not have a bus route service, and it is across the street from our public elementary school, so I guess that means no bus serves that school either.

    Last night, I spoke with one young mother with a child in a stroller. They took a taxi to the City Hall to attend, so she could speak to the Town Hall. That example reminded me that Castle Hills is already shortchanging the bus riders in our city limits, and in the adjacent San Antonio neighborhoods. This idea under consideration now only serves to aggravate a pro-car bias that is already in place. This is not the way to pay for street maintenance.

    • Lissa, Thanks for your message. We try and cover everything we can, well beyond downtown and certainly issues like this of such public concern. We certainly took notice that citizens there are using VIA bus service and VIAtrans and, at least while our reporter was there, no citizens stood up and asked the City Council to cancel the service. It seems like a very backwards, top down political initiative. –RR

  4. Logically, bus service cuts traffic; traffic creates wear and tear on roads. If Castle Hills is looking to keep the City’s roads in good condition – won’t bus service be one of the first places to go for relief from traffic congestion? Has the Tea Party taken ahold of the City?

  5. I don’t understand these people trying to deal away with public transportation. Why do (people) who post here categorize SA as a small town? San Antonio is the 7th largest city in the USA. We are considered a small town, usually by US, because of the lack of infrastructure and this is the result of people who have much to say with no open vision of the future. Kept well inside the box….typical of many Texans. NEAR SIGHTEDNESS is an issue San Antonio!! By the way, I can’t wait for the light rail to be built! It’s time for San Antonio to get on the ball with modern technologies and stop trying to hold on to past ideologies.

  6. Evidence across the country suggests that increasing modes of transportation, not eliminating them, benefits businesses and economic development in those cities.

  7. There’s a saying, “cutting off the nose to spite your face.” That’s exactly what Castle Hills leadership is doing by suggesting to opt out of VIA service. It’s a very short-sighted move that further isolates the community’s most vulnerable residents, without providing any evidence of long-term benefit for Castle Hills as a whole. In an age when offering more options for mobility is increasingly more critical, eliminating bus service is a huge step backwards.

  8. It has nothing to do about paving streets or sidewalks, This has everything to do with keeping “those people” out.

  9. Just to clarify, this article states that Stacia Spridgen was absent from council but, in fact, she submitted her resignation last week and attended last night as a resident and concerned citizen.

  10. How will students at Antonion High School get to/from campus? How will maids get to/from private homes? Do you want Antonion’s enrollment to drop so that they consider moving to the suburbs like other inner-city private schools have done? The maid question could affect citizen employers who think that, because THEY drive a car, they don’t depend on bus service.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *