Travelers using several VIA Metropolitan Transit bus routes can soon expect fewer transfers and better accessibility to downtown landmarks thanks to Centro Plaza, VIA’s new Westside transit hub at 909 W. Houston St.
Seven bus routes have already begun making stops at the hub, and the facility will host an official dedication ceremony on Friday, Nov. 20, followed by a free community celebration on Saturday, Nov. 21 at 10 a.m.
The new plaza provides riders with free high-speed WiFi, digital signs for bus arrivals, and plenty of seating. Other amenities include a customer service center and an enclosed, air-conditioned waiting area for passengers to escape the heat or rain. Riders can sit, talk or grab drinks and snacks from the vending machines in the community room.
“It looks really nice, I can’t wait until it all actually opens up,” VIA rider Isaiah Carey said of the Plaza on Wednesday. Carey catches the VIA bus each day to get from his home to his job downtown. He said he hasn’t noticed any changes in his travel times since the plaza opened for service on Nov. 2.
VIA officials do not anticipate shorter travel times in downtown San Antonio as a result of the initial route changes, but VIA passengers can expect and new, improved routes on Jan. 1, 2016. But they’ll also have to pay higher bus fares: 10 cents more for regular and express. Day passes, however, will decrease from $4 to $2.75.
The new routes through Centro Plaza will help minimize the number of transfers and avoid unneeded trips downtown by providing a hub for alternative routes around the central business district and more straight-forward connections to nearby destinations.
“Centro Plaza represents VIA’s commitment to offering enhanced services and amenities to our customers and community,” said VIA President and CEO Jeffrey Arndt. “The enclosed, conditioned waiting area, next bus arrival information and covered boarding locations provide a safe and comfortable environment for making connections. The striking design and iconic light tower create a landmark statement about VIA’s vision for the future of public transportation in our fast-growing region.”
Sleek, metallic gray materials that line the plaza flow seamlessly into the 85-foot tall “Centro Chroma Tower,” designed by internationally renowned artist Bill FitzGibbons, who was the executive director of Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum for 11 years and has a studio in the near-Southside. The light tower is illuminated and changes colors at night.
The area surrounding the Plaza, which includes the current VIA offices at “The Grand” will be renamed VIA Villa. Nearby neighborhoods include landmarks like the the Haven for Hope homeless shelter, small businesses and several single- and multi- family residential properties. Construction is still coming to a close, but visitors have already started to explore the space.
“We’ve seen a lot of people come through the plaza already and we haven’t even added all the buses yet,” said S.W. Carson, a supervisor at Centro Plaza.
SAPD and VIA Transit Police units are regularly seen patrolling the area and security is expected to remain on site at all times.
The center will eventually connect individuals with more VIA bus routes, bikeshare, and other potential transportation options like the Lone Star Rail, which – if funded is procured – will connect Austin with San Antonio with a commuter rail.
“This plaza will create a presence in the community,” Arndt said of the construction. “It will stimulate development and instill a sense of place and pride. This is a significant investment.”
VIA will provide free refreshments, information sessions, performances and art activities to celebrate the new plaza this Saturday from 10 a.m-noon. Click here for more information and event updates.
*Top image: A VIA bus passes through Centro Plaza. Photo by Scott Ball.