APTA | Passenger Transport
October 11, 2010

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VIA: Developing a Vision for Long-Term Regional Transportation

The Oct. 4 Host Forum at the APTA Annual Meeting, “Developing an Innovative Transit Vision into a Long-Range Plan,” highlighted the progress of VIA Metropolitan Transit’s “Long-Range Comprehensive Transportation Plan for 2035,” called SmartWaySA.

Through SmartWaySA, high-capacity transit corridors will be identified and prioritized. VIA is considering many high-capacity transit alternatives for the region, including bus rapid transit (BRT), electric streetcar, light rail, commuter rail, and high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes.

VIA President/Chief Executive Officer Keith T. Parker, AICP, kicked off the session, saying he had just left the Alamo, where Peter M. Rogoff, administrator of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), had announced the award of $7.1 million in grants to the agency from FTA’s new State of Good Repair Program.

The agency received two grants under the program. One, for $4 million, will pay for rehabilitation of 261 transit buses to extend the vehicles’ useful lives by five years, while the other, for $3.1 million, will cover the costs of rehabilitating several areas of VIA’s main campus, bus yard, and maintenance facility just north of downtown.

Parker noted that VIA Metropolitan Transit is the ninth fastest-growing transit system in the U.S., reporting 15 percent growth in 2006-2008. At the same time, its cost of operations is among the lowest in the nation, $2.63 per passenger. Despite having to cover 1,200 square miles and the absence of a hub/spoke city layout, VIA carries an average of 31 passengers per hour—one of the highest rates in the nation.

“We need to grow the system and become even more relevant, because San Antonio is one of the fastest-growing areas in the entire country,” he emphasized. “Over the next 10-20 years, hundreds of thousands of new people, thousands of new jobs, will be coming to this area, and they will not be bringing their roads with them.”

Bexar County Judge Nelson W. Wolff said the city’s bus system is “excellent, but we have to project beyond that because Texas has always relied heavily on cars and highways and trucks” in the past. He noted that the state resources going into public transit are “very limited,” but said he was glad the administration in Washington is focused on mass transit, focused on rail.” He said that for the “first time in history we’re going to be able to make some strides.” Wolff added that if everyone “works hard together, we’re going to see our vision come together in the next few years.”

Henry R. Muñoz III, chair of the VIA Board of Trustees, recounted how his grandparents took public transit to get to work and to buy groceries, adding that “It’s the way we got to school.” He noted that “today San Antonio is the largest city in the U.S. without a rail system, and this is the 21st Century.” “This grant is the first in history for VIA,” he noted. Muñoz said this is a historic opportunity to revitalize downtown for our citizens.” He added that a plan such as this one takes “vision, partnerships and collaboration.”

Allan Zreet, AIA, principal with Jacobs Engineering in Dallas, said possible benefits to the San Antonio region include projected daily reduction of 280,000 vehicle miles traveled; the potential to reduce 230,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions daily; reinvestment of more than 30,000 vacant acres; and creation of 6,300 jobs per year—along with other benefits such as enhancing public space, improved transportation linkages, and increased walkability and bicycle access.

Zreet compared San Antonio’s future transit development to the recent experience of San Diego, which also began as a bus-only system before adding light rail and commuter rail, with BRT on the way. He emphasized the need for the city to follow San Diego’s example of incorporating bus service into the rail system, adding necessary route changes—all designed to achieve complete coverage and seamless transfers to rail. San Diego also made sure to connect housing to major employers in the city, he noted.

He pointed out that DART began in 1983 as a bus-only system and has since grown to include paratransit, HOV lanes, a rapidly expanding light rail system, and Trinity Railway Express commuter rail to Fort Worth. The financial benefits have been significant: the 40 miles of light rail alone have produced $4.2 billion in economic development so far, with $7 billion projected.

“There’s a huge opportunity for community reinvestment and economic development,” said Zreet,“[but] it has to be planned along with the system.”

John S. Kulpa, Ph.D., regional transit manager, Jacobs Engineering, in San Antonio, said the process of developing a long-range transit-expansion plan for the city began in 2009 with visioning workshops. Clearly, he said, describing the benefits of system expansion was key to gaining public support. Kulpa recounted that VIA incorporated a great deal of public outreach and input as it developed the 2035 plan. “The entire city was really energized, and Bexar County overall,” he said. Kulpa noted that projects were evaluated using the same criteria that FTA uses:  We think that’s important, because ultimately the city of San Antonio and Bexar County can’t do it alone.” The final draft plan will be presented in early 2011.



Speakers, from left, were Henry R. Muñoz III, Keith T. Parker, John S. Kulpa, and Allan Zreet.

Judge Nelson W. Wolff 


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