VIA’s $239M Budget Maintains Fares, Expands Rapid Transit Services

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Via riders arrive at Cento Plaza. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The VIA Metropolitan Transit Prímo 103 Zarzamora line will be free to ride on Valentine's Day.

The VIA Metropolitan Transit board of trustees on Tuesday evening unanimously approved a $238.9 million budget for fiscal year 2019.

The 2019 budget maintains current fare prices and funds the construction of a new transit facility at Brooks on the city’s Southeast Side, scheduled for completion next spring. It also calls for a partnership with the City and the Texas Department of Transportation to improve bus stop amenities such as sidewalk connections, benches, and shelters.

The new operating budget increased by $10.3 million compared to the previous year and includes $10 million from the City’s general revenue fund. City Council approved its budget in August and allocated the money to help support increased frequency along bus routes.

VIA will also expand Prímo, its bus rapid transit service, by two additional routes along Zarzamora Street and Military Drive. First proposed in 2015, the new lines would connect Madla Transit Center on the South Side with Crossroads Park & Ride in Balcones Heights, and Kel-Lac Transit Center on the far West Side with the Brooks Transit Center. There is currently only one Prímo route in circulation along Fredericksburg Road.

VIA also plans to increase bus stop frequency along South Flores Street and Culebra, Bandera, and Pleasanton roads in January.

“By this time next year, we’ll have three Prímo routes, plus several corridors with 10 to 12 minute waits,” VIA President and CEO Jeffrey Arndt said.

Arndt said many of the projects in the 2019 budget are geared toward enhancing customer experience. Next year, VIA plans to offer the “goCard,” a reloadable card customers can use to pay their bus fare. The transit agency will also install solar lighting systems for 250 NextGen sheltered bus stops and seven customer information kiosks at transit center locations.

VIA’s operating budget allocates $46 million to VIAtrans, its transportation option for passengers with disabilities. VIA also will receive $6 million from a federal grant program to build a new paratransit facility that will operate and maintain VIAtrans vehicles separate from the main VIA operating facility. In August, the transit agency received another $2 million federal grant to purchase electric-powered buses.

Arndt said he’s proud of the VIAtrans facility project. VIA currently holds its fleet of roughly 600 buses and vans at one centralized site. Building a separate site for VIAtrans will free up 175 parking spaces, Arndt said.

Jeff Arndt, CEO of VIA Metropolitan Transit, speaks to the lack of funding the San Antonio bus system receives in comparison to Dallas and Houston. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report

VIA President and CEO Jeff Arndt.

“Typically garages are designed for 300 to 350 vehicles max,” Arndt said. “We have difficulty parking guests and staff. We’ve had staff park in the bus spots, and then they leave and the bus pulls in. It makes it very difficult, and our ability to grow further was really constrained.”

VIA also adopted a $56 million capital spending budget for expenses such as service vehicles and maintenance equipment. VIA projects capital spending over the next five years will total to $312.1 million.

Arndt said the agency is entering the new fiscal year with “a clear vision.”

“While VIA continues to seek new resources to truly modernize our transportation system, the FY19 Operating Budget shows our commitment to maximize existing resources through strong partnerships and innovation,” he stated in a Wednesday news release. “It provides for increased service frequencies, new facilities, and new technology – without increasing fares – and allows us to advance our Vision 2040 plan for a community connected to opportunity and an enhanced quality of life.”

VIA’s Vision 2040 Long Range Plan is aimed at shaping the future of San Antonio’s transportation as the region’s population grows.

6 thoughts on “VIA’s $239M Budget Maintains Fares, Expands Rapid Transit Services

  1. The headline is misleading. Primo on Fredericksburg Rd. is NOT rapid transit. They gave up on building it to be rapid transit due to the narrowness of the roadway through the Deco district which kept them from creating dedicated lanes that would have allowed rapid transit. The bus travels in regular traffic and takes just as long to get downtown as the old skip bus did, so a better term would be “more frequent service” since the buses run a bit more often than the old skip service did. I doubt that they have any plans to build dedicated lanes on narrow Zarzamora or on Military Drive, so Primo will continue to be a name used, but for more frequent service and NOT for true rapid transit.

    • The main road around the deco district has two lanes each way. That is not narrow at all. Whoever forced Via to backtrack needs to be investigated IMO.

      • Via backtracked because to qualify as BRT, it is necessary to have a dedicated lane for the buses and no one else. The Deco district was too narrow for three reasons: 1) That would have left only one lane each way for moving traffic, 2) The Deco district has angled parking which would have been restricted movement further with only one lane of car traffic constantly being, and 3) The stations for BRT are generally built in the middle of the road to serve both sides of the line at the same time, and that widens the path for BRT even further which would have left no room for even one lane of traffic at the points where stations were stations were to be built. Via got as far in the building stage as the point when they brought in experts to guide them without realizing the plan wouldn’t work. The consultant I talked to told them immediately that BRT would not work in the Deco district! That’s when they quit building BRT but tried to get away with still calling it BRT.

  2. Agreed on the term Bus Rapid Transit, while Primo might be called “enhanced transit”, BRT would call for a multitude of improvements that the Fred corridor does not include and my understanding is none of the new routes will either. As mentioned above, dedicated lanes are a must as well as all door boarding and not having the driver also accept fare purchases on board.

  3. As a regular bus passenger, I find it frustrating to use VIA as buses are so slow.
    Real rapid transit must include rail, whether light or heavy. Cities like Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, Washington DC, Oakland and Seattle all smaller than San Antonio have rail systems.

  4. How many people (only counting each person once per year ride any form of VIA transportation? For example, if 500 people ride VIA 10 times a year, the “ridership” under my question would be 500 and not 5,000. I think you will find the cost per rider is very, very high and really should not be supported.

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