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We love our traditions in San Antonio, from Fiesta to the rodeo, and – up until now – underfunding mass transit options. With the city set to continue growing in population and set to overtake Philadelphia as the sixth-largest city in the nation by 2021 according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it is time we stop kicking the proverbial can down the road and deal with our transportation issues.
Which is why I fully support the request by Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff to redirect the one-eighth-cent sales tax away from the Edwards Aquifer Protection Plan (EAPP) and into mass transit.
In 2014, Americans spent a combined 6.9 billion hours stuck in traffic, much of that seemingly on U.S. Highway 281, costing about $160 billion in lost time and fuel, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. Locally, traffic is getting so bad that, if we don’t do something dramatic, San Antonio drivers will spend an extra week per year in traffic by 2040, as stated by the Texas Department of Transportation.
While I believe in the importance of mass transit, I am in no way diminishing the EAPP. Over the past 19 years, the EAPP has preserved over 160,000 acres of land that supply our aquifer.
However, as the population in San Antonio has increased by 150 percent in the past 35 years, our water usage per person has fallen by half, according to the San Antonio Water System. I am not saying the problem of our water future has been solved, just that great progress has been made and it is time to do a bit of triage on our most pressing problems.
Economically speaking, investing in public transportation has shown amazing returns. With estimates ranging from $2 to $3 returned in economic development per every $1 invested in public transportation, we simply cannot afford to underfund our most dire need. Additionally, investing in public transportation is one of the most equitable measures we can take.
A recent study by the Brookings Institution showed that the typical American job is accessible via public transit by only about 27 percent of the workforce. Just think of the upward economic mobility we can provide our city with a robust transportation infrastructure. San Antonio is known as one of the most economically segregated cities in the country, and we have a chance to change that, one-eighth of a cent at a time.
As my work in the public transportation industry has taken me all around the country, I have had the pleasure of visiting cities where mass transit is part of life, not an afterthought. Take Salt Lake City, for example, where 25 percent of the downtown workforce uses public transit on a daily basis, according to the University of Utah. Juxtapose that with the fact that VIA has one-fifth of the annual budget of Dallas and Houston regional transit agencies and it is easy to see how we ended up in this single-occupant vehicle gridlock.
The time has come for San Antonio to fully fund our public transportation system. Estimates put that number in the $1 billion range and redirecting the EAPP money will not fully fund the solution, but it is a step in the right direction. We owe it to our city, our neighbors, and ourselves to fund our transportation network.