The City of San Antonio may rent a fleet of vans to cut down on the number of single-car commuters on the road.
The City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements Department (TCI) wants to find transportation alternatives for the City’s 3,600 employees who work downtown. Arthur Reinhardt, the department's assistant director, updated the City Council’s transportation committee Monday on a proposed pilot program to discourage employees from driving to work alone.
Reinhardt said TCI wanted to start with an established program, so a working group proposed using VIA Metropolitan Transit’s vanpool option. VIA has about 200 vans in circulation already, mostly used by people going to and from military bases in the suburbs, according to Reinhardt. He estimated the City would need about 22 vans, each seating seven people at a time, to transport 3 percent of downtown employees.
Reinhardt explained that 3 percent he hoped would use a vanpool was based on San Antonio’s current rates of people who drive alone to work.
“It seemed like 10 percent was too aggressive, while 1 percent wasn’t aggressive enough,” he said. “The last City census showed than only 1 percent carpooled, and 79 percent of commuters drive to work alone.”
City employees live all around San Antonio, Reinhardt said, and TCI was able to find natural groupings to plan for vanpool routes.
“We’ve gone through and analyzed each of those areas,” he said. “We’re working very closely with VIA on this analysis.”
Renting 22 vans from VIA would cost about $16,500 per month if the City was not subsidized in any way, Reinhardt said. That is similar to what the City pays VIA now for employees’ bus passes; those cost a little more than $200,000 per year and provide about 3,500 employees with free bus rides.
Council members expressed dismay at how much San Antonio pays VIA for bus passes every year. Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) asked why the City was paying for the passes at all, since the City is allocating $10 million to VIA for fiscal year 2019.
“Those cash savings could be used to help this program here,” Brockhouse said. “We should look at rerouting those funds and get it put toward this program.”
Brockhouse also asked Reinhardt to study how many employees actually use their bus passes. Reinhardt said he would work with human resources officials to start looking at that data.
Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) said she does, in fact, use her bus pass.
“I use my bus pass very often,” Gonzales said. “I felt like a millennial today because I got a ride, used the bus, and rode a Bird.”
She added that didn’t want to be a “downer” but that she expected a more innovative transportation option. She suggested looking at scooters for a cheaper alternative.
“That’s what you came up with? A vanpool?” she asked.
Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4), who chairs the transportation committee, said discussion around car alternatives was an interesting thought experiment but needed to be applied practically. Though council members voiced their concern about not knowing how many employees took advantage of their VIA passes, that doesn’t mean people don’t use them, he said.
“We are policymakers, elected officials, council members, but I wonder if we feel the same experience as the folks who we are making policies for,” Saldaña said.
Reinhardt said he hopes to finish the data analysis of City employees soon. He plans to roll out the vanpool pilot program in March for a six-month period, then evaluate its results. TCI also will be hiring a program manager to run the pilot program. Reinhardt added that TCI would be working with VIA to subsidize the cost of the vans.