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

The VIA Metropolitan Transit board of trustees on Tuesday evening unanimously approved a $238.9 million budget for fiscal year 2019.

The 2019 budget maintains current fare prices and funds the construction of a new transit facility at Brooks on the city’s Southeast Side, scheduled for completion next spring. It also calls for a partnership with the City and the Texas Department of Transportation to improve bus stop amenities such as sidewalk connections, benches, and shelters.

The new operating budget increased by $10.3 million compared to the previous year and includes $10 million from the City’s general revenue fund. City Council approved its budget in August and allocated the money to help support increased frequency along bus routes.

VIA will also expand Prímo, its bus rapid transit service, by two additional routes along Zarzamora Street and Military Drive. First proposed in 2015, the new lines would connect Madla Transit Center on the South Side with Crossroads Park & Ride in Balcones Heights, and Kel-Lac Transit Center on the far West Side with the Brooks Transit Center. There is currently only one Prímo route in circulation along Fredericksburg Road.

VIA also plans to increase bus stop frequency along South Flores Street and Culebra, Bandera, and Pleasanton roads in January.

“By this time next year, we’ll have three Prímo routes, plus several corridors with 10 to 12 minute waits,” VIA President and CEO Jeffrey Arndt said.

Arndt said many of the projects in the 2019 budget are geared toward enhancing customer experience. Next year, VIA plans to offer the “goCard,” a reloadable card customers can use to pay their bus fare. The transit agency will also install solar lighting systems for 250 NextGen sheltered bus stops and seven customer information kiosks at transit center locations.

VIA’s operating budget allocates $46 million to VIAtrans, its transportation option for passengers with disabilities. VIA also will receive $6 million from a federal grant program to build a new paratransit facility that will operate and maintain VIAtrans vehicles separate from the main VIA operating facility. In August, the transit agency received another $2 million federal grant to purchase electric-powered buses.

Arndt said he’s proud of the VIAtrans facility project. VIA currently holds its fleet of roughly 600 buses and vans at one centralized site. Building a separate site for VIAtrans will free up 175 parking spaces, Arndt said.

Jeff Arndt, CEO of VIA Metropolitan Transit, speaks to the lack of funding the San Antonio bus system receives in comparison to Dallas and Houston. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
VIA President and CEO Jeff Arndt. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

“Typically garages are designed for 300 to 350 vehicles max,” Arndt said. “We have difficulty parking guests and staff. We’ve had staff park in the bus spots, and then they leave and the bus pulls in. It makes it very difficult, and our ability to grow further was really constrained.”

VIA also adopted a $56 million capital spending budget for expenses such as service vehicles and maintenance equipment. VIA projects capital spending over the next five years will total to $312.1 million.

Arndt said the agency is entering the new fiscal year with “a clear vision.”

“While VIA continues to seek new resources to truly modernize our transportation system, the FY19 Operating Budget shows our commitment to maximize existing resources through strong partnerships and innovation,” he stated in a Wednesday news release. “It provides for increased service frequencies, new facilities, and new technology – without increasing fares – and allows us to advance our Vision 2040 plan for a community connected to opportunity and an enhanced quality of life.”

VIA’s Vision 2040 Long Range Plan is aimed at shaping the future of San Antonio’s transportation as the region’s population grows.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.