Nirenberg and Wolff: Rail Won’t Be Part of New Mass Transit Proposal

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Mayor Ron Nirenberg (center) walks off the stage with County Judge Nelson Wolff (center), San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President Richard Perez (left), and San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Ramiro Cavazos.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg (center-left) walks off the stage with County Judge Nelson Wolff (center-right) following an event in March hosted by the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said Tuesday that no rail transportation options would be considered in efforts to formulate a new mass transit plan for San Antonio.

“It’s absolutely not a light rail plan,” Nirenberg said following an appearance with Wolff at a Tricentennial Commemorative Week event. “We’re beyond light rail. The world is beyond light rail.”

Nirenberg recently announced the formation of ConnectSA, a nonprofit intended to become the driving force behind a modern multimodal transportation system plan that could be presented to voters. Neither Nirenberg nor Wolff had previously provided details of what the plan would include, including cost estimates.

Nirenberg and Wolff indicated Tuesday that the mass transit system likely to be pursued in the coming months would resemble something closer to trackless trains that are equipped with rubber tires and use dedicated traffic lanes. Trackless technologies could be developed on the city’s existing roads, be scalable to ridership demands, be more cost effective and adjustable than installing rail, and also present an opportunity for the city to be an early user of advanced technology, Nirenberg said.

Passing up rail in favor of dedicated lanes also allows the city to adjust to rapidly changing technologies in transportation, such as driverless vehicles.

“What we’ve seen looking to the future … [the systems] don’t look like a bus,” Wolff said. “They look more like a train, but they’re trackless.”

Nirenberg said he hoped a mass transit proposal and accompanying funding mechanism would be brought to voters by May 2019. But he did not say how much such a proposal would be likely to cost.

The City previously considered implementing a downtown streetcar rail project in 2014 under former Mayor Julián Castro, but widespread opposition to the plan led Ivy Taylor, who succeeded Castro as mayor when he resigned to join President Barack Obama’s cabinet, to scrap the proposal and pull $32 million in City funding pledged to the project. Wolff voiced his support for her decision at the time.

At that time, many residents felt that the plan did not address the need for a comprehensive citywide transit plan because the streetcar was limited to the downtown area. The streetcar controversy led to a City Charter amendment, approved by voters in the May 2015 election, that requires a public vote on all rail projects involving the City. Voters may not have to weigh in on any new mass transit plan that doesn’t include rail components.

However, Nirenberg said he planned on bringing any proposal to a vote so that the project receives public approval.

“The mass transit piece of this will have a public vote, whether or not it’s required” Nirenberg said. “It’s so critically important that the public of San Antonio finally gets an opportunity to say ‘yes’ to something other than status quo.”

18 thoughts on “Nirenberg and Wolff: Rail Won’t Be Part of New Mass Transit Proposal

  1. Jeffery, bruh! Do your homework. You can probably search the Rivard Report on the internet like anyone. Streetcar was $280M and the City was putting in $32M. “Trackless trains,” while cheaper than Light Rail, will end up costing hundreds of millions of dollars, which would be a good investment. Don’t get off on the wrong foot and start misinforming people. Don’t ruin this for us friend. Get the facts, and report those. Call someone or something. C’mon.

  2. I don’t get why rail is so controversial here. Most light rails start with a downtown route and grow outwardly over time. I like the idea of the trackless train, but I have a feeling it’s a pipe dream. I can’t help but think that Nirenberg and Nelson are back pedaling on their multimodal transportstion Plan Though. Whatever happened to the train from Monterrey to San Antonio I thought this was already funded by Mexico they were just waiting for the US to fund it.

    • Jon, I think you answered your own question on the Monterrey train. The U.S. Fed Gov will never get around to funding it, especially with the current Administration’s thinking on Mexico.

      • Or when in 5 months into 2018 Mexico has been able to rack up nearly 30,000 homicides.

        Tamaulipas, which I imagine the train would pass through on it’s way to Monterrey via Nuevo Laredo, was just recently listed like 2 weeks ago along with 4 other Mexican states on the Do Not Travel list…I suppose this is due to some sort of racism or hatred of Mexicans on the part of our POTUS? Of course it is…

        I suppose it’s the current administration’s thinking on Mexico that creates an environment of homicide, carjacking, kidnapping, and robbery within Mexico?

        Hypothetically speaking, as the leader of our country of 330+ million people, knowing all of these facts, you would just help fund and build a direct route right into that?

        Why don’t you just build a giant wooden horse at the border and convince everyone that all of the narcos and their corrupt buddies in power have conveniently fled back to their holes and left it there for you as a gift!

    • Callooh! Callay! What a fabulous day!
      Since I’ve read this array
      Of thoughts on display.

      I’m glad our city mayor and county leader are looking ahead instead to mobile and flexible mass transit mobility. Would love to see more of the outward growth instead to Austin and Houston on heavier rail in a fast-moving train.

  3. Trackless trains are definitely the future. Fixed rail will quickly become a poor choice for all cities now that trackless trains have been developed.
    Actually, the city should continue trying to negotiate with Union Pacific (which has refused to built tracks around town so that their routes through town could become available for rapid transit) to see if they would grant the city/county right-of-way on each side of the tracks for building the single lanes needed for trackless rapid transit. That way, they could avoid the inevitable complaints of citizens about trackless trains taking away miles of driving lanes on major streets/expressways. For instance, instead of taking up a lane on IH 10 to the Medical Center, USAA, UTSA, Valero, etc., a trackless train could go on new lanes beside the rail tracks that the city had hoped to use for light rail for people to get to/from those high employment/high use locations. Like in Europe, each rapid transit station could have an adjacent bus station with local bus routes branching out to all nearby neighborhoods.

    • sigh.just when I thought it was safe to contemplate a peaceful future in my neighborhood…….You don’t live in neighborhoods existing on either side of train tracks. This has been one of the contentious issues of light rail! Please keep mass transit outside of neighborhoods……the noise and disruption. Highways and major ALREADY have noise and air pollution. PLEASE do not go there again!!! Cease thoughts of this! you never said . It never happened.

    • Monorail are more expensive than light rails. That’s why the only cities that have networks are in East Asia and the longest one in Las Vegas don’t even reach to Downtown Las Vegas.

  4. Please see for ways to walk, bike, take VIA bus, then taxi for the “last mile”. This can start with tourists then be expanded to San Antonio residents.

    At the home page, click or touch map 67, the downtown map. Then click or touch the “V” for VIA bus routes in Legend. Kiosk screens of map 67 at hotels will help tourist “connect” to San Antonio.

    The Safari browser in the iPhone takes full advantage of this new SVG mapping technology.

  5. We will have driverless buses and cars on our streets within five years. Bravo to our city leaders for looking to the future and not advocating for fixed expensive infrastructure during times of such rapid technological change.

  6. The problem in this city is not should we have light rail or trackless trains. The problem is that current mass transit (VIA) is not effective for commuters.

    I live near Seaworld and work near the Airport. Those 13 miles take me 20 minutes to drive early in the morning. But if I would take VIA, it would take me 1.5 hours to get to work. Even if I used a bike to get to the Ingram Transit station and ride to the North Star Mall transit center, then bike the rest of the way to work, the bus ride is still over an hour. If I miss the bus, I also have to wait another 30 minutes for the next bus.

    In the 1980’s I lived in Milwaukee and their bus system was way more efficient than we have today in San Antonio. I used to be able to wait between 5 and 15 minutes for a bus. They didn’t drive you to a transit center – ever. They dropped you off on a street corner and a few minutes later there was another bus taking you on your next leg of the journey. Using that model, I could probably be to work in about 30-40 minutes from my home, but no, I have to ride to one of these multi-modal transit centers that are just bus centers – there is not much multi-modal about the transit.

    I’m not saying that Milwaukee is the model we should strive for (after all, they are putting in their own trolley downtown), but they did a way better job 35 years ago than our city is doing today.

    • Chazz S. – San Antonio is actually Five (5) times the size of Milwaukee, and it’s a Union (pro-worker) town. These two important facts make any comparison unfair.

    • Houston Metro actually rerouted the bus system to meet the needs of it’s commuters. But Between VIA and Metro, is that Metro has the money to reroute their bus system, while VIA doesn’t.

  7. Trackless trains are called Buses you can fancy em up all you want but they are still buses.
    and rail vehicles have been running driverless in some places for years.
    it will cost more to have a dedicated lane for a bus than a rail vehicle.

    it’s all hype for folks that don’t ride on the transit system and the shaft for the transit riders

  8. Regardless of its endlessly-debated advantages or disadvantages, light rail is just a non-starter in San Antonio. The mayor and the county judge are smart to distance themselves from it, lest the light rail debate endanger the entire transportation initiative. The anti-rail contingent is already gearing up, as witnessed by the recent appearance of another anti-rail article in the Express-News by its mouthpiece, Randal O’Toole. Also, look what just happened in Nashville, an up-and-coming city with many similarities to San Antonio. On May 1, 2018, its ambitious — and expensive — light rail initiative was defeated by a two-to-one margin. We badly need to invest in transportation infrastructure in San Antonio NOW, not later, and if we can get moving on that by omitting rail, that’s a small price to pay.

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