Locals board a new VIVA Culture Bus, which begins service Monday June 6, at the VIVA Kickoff on Monday afternoon. Photo by Katie Walsh.
Locals board the VIVA Culture Bus. Credit: Katie Walsh / San Antonio Report

Alamo Plaza was full of cupcakes and mariachi music as VIA Metropolitan Transit and Visit San Antonio celebrated its first year of the three VIVA bus routes which connect cultural and historic hubs around San Antonio’s urban core.

Joined in front of the Alamo by Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) and Visit San Antonio’s Director of Partner & Community Relations, Richard Oliver, VIA President and CEO Jeffrey Arndt introduced what he called “a brand new tradition for San Antonio” in the VIVA routes and their influence.

“Downtown is everyone’s downtown,” said Arndt. “[VIVA] serves the heart of the city.”

The program includes VIVA Culture, Missions, and Centro routes. VIVA Culture (Route 11) goes from the McNay Art Museum south on Broadway to the Blue Star Arts Complex. VIVA Missions (40) goes from Alamo Plaza south to Missions Concepción, San José, and San Juan. VIVA Centro (301) goes east-west from Centro Plaza on North Frio Street to Sunset Station past I-37, and is the most popular of the three routes with a frequency of 10 to 15 minutes.

“In its first year [VIVA] had over 360,500 passenger trips, and the various businesses and locations along the route have expressed appreciation and have asked how we can let more people know about it. So, we plan to build on those partnerships and continue to increase awareness,” Arndt said.

“These routes make it very simple to connect to the large number of resources within our urban core,” said Arndt, adding that the routes orbit fittingly around Alamo Plaza, the epicenter of visitor activity. “It gives you access to food, drink, culture, and history.”

Arndt also noted VIA’s recent expansions which include 270 new buses, 1,000 new bus stop shelters, free WiFi aboard vehicles, and the new goMobile app.

“I believe every successful city must have a thriving downtown,” Treviño said. “VIVA creates that connection.”

Treviño identified the new routes as an important service to both tourists and locals in helping provide easy access throughout downtown and touched upon links to the forthcoming festivities for San Antonio’s 300th anniversary.

“We hope to work it into Tricentennial celebrations … to use these proven resources to celebrate how our city’s history has been shaped,” Treviño said. “Through investment, innovation, and collaboration, VIA and their partners will be a part of [the Tricentennial celebration’s] success.”

Oliver spoke about VIA’s role in embracing the Spanish-colonial Missions’ UNESCO World Heritage designation with the VIVA Missions route which improves the experience of the city’s 34 million annual visitors.

“A lot of the time it’s more about the journey than the destination … and that’s one of the things that VIA provides,” said Oliver, crediting the bus lines with delivering a level of comfort and ease to tourists that encourages them to return.

“Here’s the reason that people come back time and time again to San Antonio: we treat people like family. We let them know they’re a part of our heart,” Oliver said, referencing VIVA’s slogan “Explore the Heart of San Antonio” and the heart-shaped hand fans given to attendees. “We’re a place of heart.”

After the remarks, Arndt invited a procession of mariachis, led by VIA bus driver Jesse Quintero Jr., who has been with VIA for 52 years, to sing happy birthday to the VIVA routes. As the festive music ensued, a group of VIA employees gave out brightly frosted cupcakes to attendees.

“We’re looking forward to another year of connecting our city through public transportation,” Arndt said. “That’s what VIA is. It’s that pathway to the people and places we love in San Antonio.”

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Tom Bugg

Tom Bugg is a San Antonio native and student of English at Colorado College.