Sabér Study: Streetcar System Will Generate Billions

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Streetcar rendering courtesy of VIA Metropolitan Transit.

Streetcar rendering courtesy of VIA Metropolitan Transit.

VIA Metropolitan Transit’s modern streetcar system in San Antonio will generate billions of dollars in new real estate development, jobs and economic activity over the next 25 years, according to a new study conducted by SABÉR Institute of St. Mary’s University and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that was released Monday.

The study was conducted under the supervision of Steve R. Nivin, PhD, the institute’s director and chief economist, and was unveiled at a Monday press conference at VIA’s headquarters. VIA CEO Jeffrey Arndt, Nivin, and Alex Briseño, VIA’s board chairman, among others, spoke at the press conference. The study’s release comes amid considerable campaigning by anti-streetcar forces to undermine the project and in the case of the firefighters union, to oppose it as a mechanism for bringing pressure on city officials to award the union a more lucrative wage and benefits contract.

Streetcar proponents have long argued that streetcars are one part of a comprehensive strategy designed to meet San Antonio’s long-term transportation needs and enhance its profile as a progressive city that will attract young professionals who want to live and work where public transportation, cycling, and pedestrian options allow them to avoid commuting or a lifestyle in which an automobile is a daily necessity. Streetcar and light rail systems, supporters argue, also act as economic generators.

“The streetcar project is not a stand-alone project. It’s part of a comprehensive transportation plan that has an economic impact,” said VIA Board Chairman Alexander Briseño. “This is an investment that’s worthwhile. It’s one that’s important for the community and the future.”

“We’re not talking about the needs of the people today; we’re talking about the needs of the people of the future,” Briseño added. “We need to provide options and alternatives. This system, as part of that comprehensive transportation plan, provides one of those alternatives.”

The construction of a $280 million modern streetcar system will support 4,080 new jobs and $206 million in payroll and benefits, according to Nivin, with an overall impact on the regional economy of $489 million. The study anticipates seven million square feet of new real estate development along the completed routes, generating $756 million in taxable improvements. That would lead to 8,500 new jobs and $387 million in new payroll and benefits, according to the study.

New businesses along the route will generate $1.8 billion in new construction and an additional $1.3 billion in economic activity, contributing $265 million in new tax revenues to the city, county and San Antonio Independent School District. In addition to the substantial increase in property taxes, sales tax revenues from new businesses will grow by $53 million annually.

“These data just further substantiate the fully transformational nature of the streetcar project,” Arndt said.  “It will change the way people get around the central business district and connect with an expanded transit system.  It will change the face of downtown while generating substantial economic benefits that will be enjoyed throughout the region.  And it will create an urban environment that offers a lifestyle choice that appeals to young professionals.  Everyone wins.”

Streetcar systems have played large roles in creating technology advanced transportation systems within many U.S. cities. There are 26 streetcar systems operating in the U.S. and Canada, and 90 other cities, including San Antonio, are in the process of planning the construction of a streetcar system.

The Rivard Report is publishing an occasional series of stories about streetcars in other cities over the coming months. The first story looking at the largest streetcar system in North America in Toronto appeared today:  Toronto: The City That Saved its Streetcar Tracks.

Not only will the construction and operation of a modern street car system contribute jobs, money and new business development, but it will further connect the city and help create a more sustainable environment with transportation options not readily available now, including enhanced cycling and pedestrian options.

“I am very confident that a streetcar system could have a substantial impact,” Nivin said. “A streetcar system will serve as connective tissue for San Antonio.”

Constructing a modern streetcar system also will lead to a decrease in vehicle traffic and carbon emissions as more people leave their vehicles at home and fewer buses clog traffic in the downtown area. The money saved by individuals who choose to make use of streetcars rather than a vehicle will be invested in household and other expenses.

“This report has given us some substantial numbers to work with,” Briseño said. Any discussion of the benefits of the streetcar system should include these figures and the positive impact they will have on our economy.”

*Featured/top image: Streetcar rendering courtesy of VIA Metropolitan Transit.

 Related stories:

Clearing the Air at Streetcar Town Hall Meeting

Billionaire Outsiders Take Special Interest in VIA Streetcar Plan

The True Value of Streetcars in San Antonio

Street Fight Over Streetcars

Streetcar Advocate Responds to Red McCombs


22 thoughts on “Sabér Study: Streetcar System Will Generate Billions

  1. Austin also has an abundance of downtown living options…. as well as a desire to grow. Much of the time I feel like San Antonio is apprehensive to the ideas of change and growth.

  2. SA may be one of the fastest growing cities, Thomas Beck, but where is that growth taking place? Where has most of the growth taken place? Mostly north side and more recently, the far west. I don’t exactly call urban sprawl “progressive.”

    • I find streetcars to be quite bike friendly, but my experience is limited to a few cities where I’ve been on a bike where there are streetcars. They are certainly more friendly than cars and trucks and SUVs. I find many VIA bus drivers to be actively bike unfriendly. Many in the downtown area, particularly, resent cyclists slowing them down on their route, but where else can cyclists ride but to the right? Bus drivers should obey the 3′ passing rule and not brush back cyclists in anger, which happens all the time.

  3. I’m pro streetcar but what is the reasoning for no vote. Is it because Via is using it’s own money and no sales tax like other proposals?

    • SK,
      VIA Is funded by a set percentage of sales tax in the cities that are in the system. A vote would be required if VIA were asking for an increase which is not the case. The Modern Streetcar Project was planned and budgeted as part of a long range plan. VIA does not collect property tax.

  4. Chicken or egg? Regardless, on this particular issue and the many layers in analyzing it there is abundant experience and information out there. The impact on major cities who had the vision to have broader, more comprehensive transportation plans in order to better direct growth, contribute to public policy goals, and boost the economy is undeniable and impressive. Beyond the obvious comps like Seattle, Portland, Denver and others, even traffic-strangled cities like Atlanta are doing incredible things with connectivity of different transportation modes and expansion of the inner-city light rail, etc. The data in in, for decades, now on the economic impact driven by nodal-development and zoning models, in terms of jobs, real estate values, and quality of life. No reinventing the wheel here, just a matter if we have the vision and will to look at what works and use it to shape public policy and smart city growth here.

  5. More that you want to know about “Austin Urban Rail” as of September 2013 report: Austin is hobbled in so many ways by the overwhelming auto traffic — looks like they are getting aggressive with rail. San Antonio should also be looking at getting aggressive regionally. Clayton, I agree with you, sprawl is hardly progressive. Furthermore, we do not have the water to support it — but that is for another discussion with SAWS!

    • Perhaps, but the billions dollars worth of expansions on 1604 in the near term only benefits those that use those roads as well. Where is the outcry to vote on those projects, individually? The 1604/281 interchange doesn’t benefit me, so why don’t I get to vote on those projects individually. They are part of a big system that feeds sprawl and all of the problems that result from sprawl, and they are fully and completely subsidized by taxpayers. Does every public works project have to benefit every citizen to have merit? If so, every road expansion on the books fails miserably.

      There are two standards. One for auto infrastructure and another for every other transportation mode. Low density suburban sprawl is unsustainable, and street cars are but just one tool being used to turn that tide. Above all else, that’s the real grief with street cars, or light rail, or road diets. The opposition is really about a threat to auto culture.

  6. Of course it will. I lived in DC before the subway got finished. Wherever the subway went, development blossomed. Doesn’t even take a study to see it. The money for it comes from tourists, but I’m 62 and won’t be able to drive someday. I’d love to live near it.

  7. Having lived in a couple places with trolley service, I think they’re wonderful; especially as streets get more and more congested.
    But one thing is for sure, you MUST start building well before that congestion point arrives. SA does not seem to have an abundance of folks who can see long-term, and that’s sad.

  8. A healthy and thriving downtown helps the entire city! The central business district is a major center of employment and generates a combined significant payroll that gets spent all over the city. As more of the available office space and abandoned property gets filled with new life, that value grows significantly. As the property values in the center of the city grow, the city, county, school districts etc gain more revenue. Power and water is already in place as well as all basic services. Investment that draws more activity into downtown gets a much higher return than new areas…sprawl…where utilities and new infrastructure have to be extended. Sprawl also increases new demands on public safety investment. More fire and police stations, vehicles, personnel, I pay for that new investment up front in my property taxes and utility rates, no matter where I live, meaning I subsidize new growth!

  9. The study predicts development following the street car construction. This is likely true. The prediction of “billions” of development is a speculation. The release (no fault of the author of this article) should have mentioned that the POTENTIAL for development may be billions. The paramount concern here is that the streetcar may have to be subsidized prior to this “built out” state, draining any posibility of the project paying for itself for a large portion of the 25 year prediction.

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