Transportation is the buzz word in San Antonio for 2019, and VIA Metropolitan Transit is helping to lead the conversation with service and innovations that are moving the needle on mobility.
The regional transit provider is starting the new year on several high notes, having celebrated 40 years of service, bucking the industry trend on ridership with new high-frequency routes, and earning national recognition for several programs aimed at improving the customer experience.
The Need for Speed
VIA provides roughly 36 million passenger trips each year over a 1,226-square-mile area of Bexar County. Service runs daily on 96 routes, with the Pri?mo 103 Zarzamora added in January and another Pri?mo route set to debut on Military Drive later this year. The new Pri?mo routes will connect major population and job centers with faster, more frequent. and more reliable service.
The Pri?mo 100, VIA’s original high-frequency route, was once the only route in the entire system that offered 12- to 15-minute service when it launched in 2012 – the frequency “sweet spot” for keeping and growing ridership. In 2018, VIA announced a game-changing partnership with the City of San Antonio and Bexar County to provide planning and funding support for route improvements.
In 24 months, VIA has increased route frequency on a total of 19 routes.
The improved routes have delivered a 22-percent increase in ridership and continue to trend upward. VIA proved that if location is the No. 1 rule in real estate, frequency tops the list for transit.
Thinking Outside the Bus
VIA was recognized with a national award for its achievements in innovation and contributions toward modern mobility, which include new app developments, digital services to expand service access, and GoCodeSA, a partnership with San Antonio’s tech community that is the foundation for VIA’s annual Codeathon challenge.
Investments in innovation and improved service continue to be the focus for VIA moving into 2019. The agency is on a roll to become an integral part of a modern transportation system with smart transit options, a better customer experience, and a new approach to mobility challenges.
VIA is rising to the challenge of “thinking outside the bus” for 21st-century solutions with its “VIA on Demand” service pilot that introduces an app-based, shared-ride program for more efficient service in suburban areas. The six-month project will launch in spring 2019 on the city’s Northeast Side and could become a model for service in less dense population centers where traditional service models are not cost-effective.
Forward-thinking digital solutions improved access for thousands of new and existing customers in 2018. The VIA goMobile app was downloaded 55,000 times in 2018, bringing total downloads to more than 158,000 since it launched. The app makes it possible to plan and pay for trips from a smartphone to streamline the boarding and payment process.
Customers of the VIAtrans paratransit service can also plan and manage their trips online with the new VIAtrans Online System. The 24-hour digital portal makes it easier for persons with a disability to book, cancel, and track their trips in real time.
The opening of VIA’s eighth Park & Ride facility in summer 2018 also marked the expansion of service north of Loop 1604 along U.S. Highway 281. Stone Oak Park & Ride is the largest such facility in the VIA system, standing four stories high at the corner of Stone Oak Parkway and U.S. 281 North.
The project also represents the future of transit in the region as the base for the first high-occupancy vehicle lane, or HOV, in Bexar County. Once completed, a flyover from frontage road traffic will connect directly to HOV lanes on U.S. 281 and allow transit vehicles to bypass traffic into downtown. The direct connection is being built as part of the Texas Department of Transportation’s construction project on U.S. 281 and is expected to be complete in 2021.
A new Brooks Transit Center and updated Kel-Lac Transit Center will follow the smart hub model and feature convenient customer service resources and amenities, including the free high-speed Wi-Fi services that VIA introduced systemwide in 2015.
A New Vision for Mobility
Public transit plays a key role in the modern transportation system city and county leaders envision. VIA is reimagining mobility and building on its community-driven Vision 2040 Plan’s three pillars: a better bus system, connected to a network of advanced rapid transit routes, while leveraging technology to provide smart transit solutions for the entire system.
VIA’s reimagined plan aims for a more dynamic transportation system for our growing region. It will work to make transportation rapid, reliable, and remarkable and build on improvements VIA has already delivered, such as increased frequency, more than 1,000 new and improved bus shelters, and service that makes commuting easier and more seamless.
The plan’s cornerstone will be an advanced rapid transit network of seven corridors that use dedicated lanes and rubber tire high-capacity vehicles to move more people more efficiently free from regular traffic.
Planners envision more mobility choices, greater reliability and efficiency, greater flexibility with advanced technology, support for long-term economic growth, air quality, environment, and public health improvements, and more.