Though overall ridership remains low compared to pre-pandemic levels, VIA Metropolitan Transit is adding more stops to some of its routes in response to a small increase in daily riders.
Starting Monday, nine of VIA’s routes will increase in frequency on weekdays, while Route 3 and Route 76 will both increase Saturday service from 20 minutes between buses to 15 minutes. More service change information can be found here.
The adjustments were made after VIA saw a “slight uptick” in its ridership levels, said Kammy Horne, senior vice president of development. Though it wasn’t a large change, VIA wanted to ensure its social distancing policy could remain in place while serving customers who need transportation.
“We’ve seen consistency on the routes and other things like that,” she said. “But what went into the thinking behind the main service changes really was … we are maintaining our safe social distancing policy, which is 16 seated passengers on a 40-foot bus and 20 seated passengers on a 60-foot bus.”
|Route 3, San Pedro Skip||Buses arrive every 15 minutes on Saturdays|
|Route 4, San Pedro Frequent||Buses arrive every 20 minutes from 6-9 a.m. on weekdays.|
|Route 10, Naco/Broadway||Buses arrive every 20 minutes all day on weekdays.|
|Route 25, East Commerce||Buses arrive every 15 minutes all day on weekdays.|
|Route 28, Porter Frequent||Buses arrive every 20 minutes from 6-9 a.m. on weekdays.|
|Route 51, Nogalitos||Buses arrive every 20 minutes all day on weekdays.|
|Route 75, West Commerce||Buses arrive every 15 minutes all day on weekdays.|
|Route 76, West Commerce Skip||Buses arrive every 15 minutes on Saturdays.|
|Route 502, Thousand Oaks||Buses arrive every 30 minutes all day on weekdays.|
|Route 602, North Star/Medical Center||Buses arrive every 30 minutes all day on weekdays.|
|Route 651, Deco District/Castle Hills||Buses arrive every 45 minutes all day on weekdays.|
When the pandemic started, VIA responded by reducing service as well as waiving bus fees. Ridership dropped sharply within the first few weeks of the pandemic.
Compared to pre-pandemic levels, VIA is still operating at about half of its typical ridership levels, Horne said. The transit agency tracks year-to-year comparisons online, with the most recent data provided as of February 2021. Throughout the past year, the trend of seeing half as many riders as usual has held steady, Horne said.
“We don’t anticipate ridership demand to be in the exact same places as it was pre-COVID,” she said. “So we’re monitoring that and making the service changes to match that ridership demand.”
During the pandemic, the average weekday sees about 60,000 passengers, the average Saturday sees 45,000 passengers, and the average Sunday sees 35,000 passengers, Horne said. Before, those numbers were 120,000, 80,000, and 70,000, respectively.
VIA will continue the suspension of 10 routes, Horne said. Those include the VIVA downtown routes as well as two Joint Base San Antonio routes. Of the routes that are still running, 30 of the weekday ones are providing the same level of service as before the pandemic, 10 are providing additional service, and 42 are providing less service. And changing routes as the pandemic kept many of VIA’s riders out of its buses forced officials to think about where people most needed to go, Horne said.
“I honestly think moving forward … [travel] patterns will change,” Horne said. “And I personally don’t expect them to be anything the same as before COVID. But we’ll see.”
Though coronavirus transmission rates remain low, Horne refrained from predicting when VIA might start seeing pre-pandemic ridership numbers again.
“Everything looks positive like it’s going in a certain direction,” she said. “We’re monitoring that, we’re monitoring the businesses that are opening up, the schools that are opening up, the travel patterns. But … we don’t have a set date where we think [we might return to pre-pandemic levels].”
Find more information about VIA routes and schedules here.