By Carolina Canizales

I’ve never been afraid of taking a new bus route and getting lost. It’s easy to stick to basics and familiar routes: home-school-work. But my rider confidence level has been built exploring new routes. I’ve probably tried every route on the VIA map.

If it makes the bus-riding novice more comfortable, let me say that in 12 years of daily bus commuting I’ve never experienced an unpleasant incident or encounter. It’s not easy for a newcomer to park the car at home or the park ‘n ride and take the bus to work. But I’m proof that it can be done, even with a busy, sometimes overscheduled life, day in and day out.

That’s why I’ve assembled a handy 10-Step Guide to encourage first-timers to leave the keys at home and try riding the bus. Thanks to VIA’s user-friendly information that’s only a phone call or quick search away, it should take you less than 10 minutes to plan your trip. Once on board, your fare paid, sit back, relax, enjoy the ride, the A/C, a clean bus, and the view. Read, journal, browse the Web, nap, visit with a fellow passenger, or just enjoy the passing scenery. Your time is your own until you arrive.

Take a practice run if you like. Take the bus from your home to the mall, or downtown, or just ride one way, turn around, and come home. Throw your bike on the front. It takes about 30 seconds to lift and load a bike on the bike rack on the front of the bus. Take your time: Friendly drivers know a beginner when they see one. They’ll wait for you to finish.

Think about the bragging rights you’ll have at work when you announce to co-workers that you’ve been taking the bus. How about them? Secretly, they’ll envy your independence and ability to get out of your car. Not to mention the money you’re saving.

Ten Step Guide to Riding the Bus

Step 1: Plan your trip. Use Google Maps, Log in, type your location and destination, select the bus icon at the top and hit the ‘Get Directions’ button. This will tell you, step by step, what to do. Or if you prefer, you can use VIA’s personal trip planner.

Step 2: Travel light. A small backpack, your briefcase or purse. Riding the bus is a lot easier when you’re not lugging baggage. Remember: it’s an urban bus, not a cross-country flight.

Main bus stop at Travis Park.

Step 3: Don’t forget bus fare. Drivers do not make change. Make sure you have enough change for a round trip. You will need $1.10 for a one-way ride. If you are going to transfer to a second bus line, you will need $1.25. A transfer chit, nothing more than a small piece of paper the driver will hand you, will get you on to your next bus at no additional charge. Forget to get a transfer and you’ll be out another $1.10. If you plan to transfer to an Express Route, which costs $2.50,  you will need to pay the difference. If you want to explore different places, then purchase an unlimited ride daily pass for $4 at any transit center. These passes allow you unlimited rides on all bus services for the entire day, all you have to do is show it to the bus driver as you get on the bus. Memo to VIA: How about a weekend pass for the same $4?

Step 3: Walk to the nearest bus stop in your neighborhood. If that’s not obvious, go online to find the closest bus stop or Park  & Ride or Via Transit Center. Parking at the transit centers is free.

Step 4: Make sure you’re at the right bus stop. Ask another rider, or double-check with the driver before boarding. The route number is easily visible on the front of the bus. Or call VIA’s customer service line: 210-362-2020. Warning: it often takes operators a ridiculous five minutes to answer.

VIA bus stop on East Commerce Street.

Step 5: When you board the bus, take an open seat on the right side of the bus so you can see the road ahead.  Ask the bus driver to drop you off at a specific street. Drivers always seem to remember without being reminded where you want to jump off.

Step 6: Pick up a copy of the bus schedule for future use. Buses have schedules available behind the bus driver’s seat. The schedules feature a map with routes, major stops, and arrival times.

Step 7: Ring the bell to get off. Buses have two types of bells. One is a yellow rubber strip in between the windows; the other is a pull-down cord. Both are visible and easy to use. Make sure you pull the cord down after you have passed the bus stop before your stop. If you are just waiting on the bus operator to indicate your stop, then go ahead and keep waiting. If you’re anxious about missing you step, walk up to the bus driver and repeat your street stop.

Step 8: Say thank you. Always thank the bus driver because you have arrived safely at your destination. Be careful not to walk in front of  a moving bus if you intend to cross the street.

Via’s monthly bus passes.

Step 9: For the trip back home, leave yourself enough time to get to the bus stop, located right across the street from where you got off your bus earlier in the day. Check your schedule or call the VIA line before you leave work to verify the arrival time of your bus. Sitting for too long at a bus stop in the summer heat is an unpleasant experience. Too many VIA stops do not offer shade, water, recycling bins,  or any other amenities, a real deficiency of our system.

Step 10: Don’t ride just once, or only every once in a great while. The more you  ride, the more you’ll save. The more riders, the faster VIA can expand and improve. Pretty soon, you’ll be an old pro, just like me. See you on the bus!

VIA Bus Service Breakdown:

Frequent Service (Red): The frequent bus services run every 15 to 20 minutes. They travel the busiest roads in town such as San Pedro Avenue (Route 4), Fredericksburg  Road (Route 92), New Braunfels Avenue (20) and East and West Commerce Street (Routes 25 and 75).

Regular Service (Purple): Regular service is every 30 minutes. A majority of VIA’s routes are in this category. They have very frequent stops, a block and a-half between stops and they tend to have line-up services. Line-up service is when they run past 11 p.m.

Skip Service (Green): Skip bus service is rather interesting. They run every 30 minutes. Routes such as 550 and 551 are designed to circulate all of Loop 410, but they do not stop frequently, only at transit centers, park & rides and several stops located on highway access roads and major avenues.

Bus schedules are available at all transit centers.

Express Service (Orange): Express routes such as 6 (Parkhills Park & Ride, Downtown) and 93 (U.T.S.A., University Park & Ride, Crossroads Park & Ride, U.T.S.A. Downtown, Downtown) are specifically designed for commuters. Students, young professionals and workers can ride them from a park & ride facilities or downtown to work. They have very frequent runs during rush hours such as 7-9 a.m. and 5-7 p.m. Throughout the rest of day they run every 30-40 minutes. These have Wi-Fi and provide luggage space above the seats. 

Primo Service (Available in December):There will be a total of 16 sixty-feet buses that will run on Fredericksburg Road traveling from the UTSA 1604 campus to the Medical Center Transit Center and on to downtown. Primo will have 16 bus stations and its route is also an extension to Leon Valley. Primo will have Wi-Fi like the Express Routes, LCD Displays with real-time arrival information, and space for three bikes on board.

Fares: Frequent, Regular, Skip and soon Primo service all have a fare of $1.10 for a single ride. Express Service is $2.50 per single ride.

Photos by Carolina Canizales.

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Carolina Canizales

Carolina Carnizales, a former Rivard Report intern, graduated with honors from UTSA and now works in Washington D.C. in the national DREAM movement.