Via riders arrive at Cento Plaza. Photo by Scott Ball.
The VIA Metropolitan Transit Prímo 103 Zarzamora line will be free to ride on Valentine's Day. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

VIA Metropolitan Transit outlined its working plans for a new rapid transit system Wednesday, ideas that resemble those being discussed in ConnectSA’s pursuit of a new multimodal mass transit system.

“We cannot build our way out of congestion,” Jeffrey Arndt, VIA’s president and CEO, said to a room full of City and County officials and transportation leaders. “Let’s talk about the next 40 years when we look at a more mobile future.”

Arndt discussed the proposed rapid transit corridor network in his keynote speech at the 2018 State of Transit meeting. Organized in partnership with the San Antonio Mobility Coalition, the event focused on discussing solutions to the pressing traffic issues facing San Antonio.

Arndt outlined three building blocks in VIA’s long-range plan that require using new technologies to both improve simple services such as paying fares, and finding innovative ways to reach untapped markets in the city’s suburban neighborhoods, for example.

A rapid transit system that increases the frequency of public transportation service is the key to ensuring that traffic congestion and commute times don’t balloon with San Antonio’s projected growth over the coming decades, Arndt said.

Proposed RTC Network Credit: Courtesy / VIA Metropolitan Transit

“This is the system map of a draft plan we have for the proposed … rapid transit,” Arndt said.

The rapid transit lines represent dedicated lanes on which vehicles such as VIA’s Primo Buses could run. Arndt noted that the working proposal, which includes public input gathered through the Vision 2040 Plan and SA Tomorrow, features lines that span each side of the city.

Yet Arndt suggested that it may not simply be Primo buses operating on the new network. He showed a video depicting trackless trains currently being developed in China.

The rapid transit system’s aim would be to increase frequency of service, giving commuters a reliable transportation option. Arndt cited a study from the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization showing that 84 percent of people expressed interest in utilizing public transit if the wait for a vehicle did not extend past 10 minutes. That number drops to 64 percent if the wait is between 10 to 20 minutes, and plummets to 21 percent for a wait between 20 to 30 minutes.

VIA reported that in 2017 only 2 percent of is service had riders waiting for less than 10 minutes. Findings showed that 20 percent waited between 15 to 20 minutes, while 50 percent waited around 30 minutes.

The draft rapid transit system resembles the mass transit plan that San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, both speakers at the State of Transit, are pursuing through ConnectSA. The two recently announced that the new mass transit system would not involve rail components. Instead, they indicated that the vehicles would likely be trackless trains.

Hope Andrade, one of three ConnectSA chairs, spoke after Arndt at the event and stressed the importance of investing in a public transit system now. She said not being able to bid on deals like Amazon’s HQ2 because of a lack of public transit was embarrassing.

“I believe that right now is the time for us to deliver a world-class public transit system deserving of this great city,” Andrade said. “We don’t have any more excuses.”

After the remarks, Arndt told the Rivard Report that multiple opportunities existed for funding the program, which he said would likely come from several different sources, including from the private and public sector.

Jeffrey Sullivan

Jeffrey Sullivan is a Rivard Report reporter. He graduated from Trinity University with a degree in Political Science.