The VIA Metropolitan Transit Board of Trustees unanimously approved proposed route changes for the city’s downtown area on Tuesday, which will provide a more streamlined service to cultural and historical destinations along Broadway, Southtown, and Mission Reach.
All route adjustments will be officially implemented on Monday, June 6.
For an interactive map of all VIA bus routes, click here.
VIA will consolidate the 7 Sightseer Special, 305 Blue Circulator, and the 333 E into one north-south branch that would provide services between the McNay Art Museum and the Blue Star Arts Complex, called the “Cultural Route.”
Currently, the Sightseer Special travels as far north as the Witte Museum and as far south as Alamo Plaza, the Blue Circulator runs between South Town and the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, and the E line services a short two-mile loop between The Shops at Rivercenter, the Tobin, La Villita and everything in between.
The new “Cultural Route” will have one branch that travels to the McNay Art Museum, a second one that goes to the Pearl, and a third one that travels to the San Antonio Zoo, but all three will connect to Southtown. A service between the Pearl and Blue Star, the first of its kind, would operate nightly from 8 to 11 p.m. every 20 minutes.
The service will provide faster service by saving seven minutes in each direction with its limited stops, said Tracy Manning, VIA manager of route planning.
The East/West 301 Red Circulator will also be adjusted to provide service to Centro Plaza and St. Paul Square on the city’s Eastside, something community members suggested in a public input meeting held earlier in March.
“The idea of a route that connects cultural places along Broadway makes all the sense in the world,” said Richard Perez, president and CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. “I’ll be very honest with you, I do not ride the bus regularly … because it takes a long time to get from one place to another, but these changes that are being contemplated here will provide us, and business folks especially, with speed to get from one place to another.”
The recent World Heritage designation of the city’s Spanish-colonial missions has created more of a demand for VIA branches to service all five of the missions. That’s why VIA will extend a 30-minute service down to all of the missions that would function from 9 a.m.to 5 p.m., seven days a week. The new branch will provide stops at Mission San Juan and Mission Espada, with service to Mission Espada to begin after construction in the area is completed.
The changes in each of the routes, Manning said, are projected to increase ridership. The Red Circulator would see a rider increase by approximately 225 new riders a day, the “Cultural Route” would accommodate 850 riders a day, and the new mission route would see about 250 riders a day, he said.
Other branches that will face adjustments include 22 Hays Frequent; 42 Roosevelt; 70 Cesar Chavez; and 614 Hidden Cove/Kel-Lac, and Route 614 which will be adjusted to provide service to Pearsall Park.
In the wake of the branch adjustments and consolidations in the city’s downtown and missions areas, members of the VIA marketing, promotions, and communications department have began preparing a uniform branding effort for the new routes that will be symbolic of the areas they’ll serve.
“We took inspiration from people and places all along the route … the history and heritage that’s represented along that route, the architecture and landscape, all of those things that give this corridor, our city, and our region life,” said Rachel Benavidez, VIA director of marketing, promotions and communications.
The brand, called “Viva,” will encompass the “three legs” of the cultural destinations served on each of the routes, Benavidez said, with the “Cultural Route” between Southtown and the McNay named “Viva Culture,” the “mission trail service” named “Viva Missions,” and the east/west downtown circulator route named “Viva Centro.”
While the “Viva” brand is still undergoing aesthetic finalizations, all aspects of the brand will combine “whimsical” details with “sophistication,” and will include celebratory colors like vivid reds, greens, and purples, Benavidez said.
“The color palette is a celebratory palette,” she said. “Some people see Fiesta, some people see classic Spurs, but what we wanted to take from that was the feeling that that palette evokes. It makes people feel like they know San Antonio so we wanted to apply that to what we’re trying to do with these routes.”
The ultimate “Viva” designs will be implemented onto a fleet of buses — and trolleys — as well as on signage along the routes in June, upon final board approval.
“(Passengers) will know for sure that they are on the (Viva) route,” Benavidez said. “When they board the bus, they’re not going to accidentally end up on the cross-town bus. They’ll know that they’re going somewhere special and that this is an experience.”
Until the final implementations take place in June, VIA branch planners and the marketing team will continue to gather feedback from both internal and external stakeholders, including neighborhood associations, to ensure that the new branches and branding will best serve VIA riders. For more information or to view the most recent bus schedule, visit www. viainfo.net.
*Top image: VIA bus passengers arrive at Centro Plaza. Photo by Scott Ball.