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Blog: In San Antonio, Transit to Remember


Location: Washington, DC

I was in San Antonio, Texas, yesterday, with Mayor Julian Castro, and while I was there I learned that one of the Alamo City's taglines is "Something to Remember." After reviewing the city's cutting edge public transit facilities, I can see several reasons why.

From the Primo Bus Rapid Transit service to the Westside Multimodal Transit Center and the planned streetcar lines, the region's VIA Metropolitan Transit truly offers something to remember.

In December 2012, VIA began service on the Primo Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line, Bexar County's first BRT. The 12-mile, 8-station line links transit riders to the region's two largest employment centers --South Texas Medical Center and Downtown San Antonio. The line's $70 million construction cost was partially funded by $52.6 million from our Federal Transit Administration.

Like BRT systems going into service around the country, the Primo line uses modern, high-capacity vehicles, improved fare collection systems, limited stops, and controlled traffic signals to move riders more efficiently. For greater safety and convenience, passengers board the buses from stations rather than bus stops. During peak hours, VIA offers this modern express service at 10-minute intervals.

And, from what I heard from VIA CEO and President Jeff Arndt yesterday, passengers love it. In fact, less than a year after the Primo service began, VIA extended it to nearby Leon Valley.

I also had a chance to see firsthand the progress on San Antonio's Westside Multimodal Transit Center. This project, funded in part by a 2011 TIGER grant, will construct a transit plaza connected to a rehabilitated historic train station. When completed, the center will provide a convenient hub for San Antonio's bus routes, planned streetcar service, and the many intercity buses that bring passengers to downtown San Antonio. It will offer parking, serve the needs of bicycle commuters, and create a pedestrian-oriented environment.

With more than 16,000 transit trips made daily to San Antonio's central business district, the city needs a downtown location where riders can transfer to other transit services. The Westside Multimodal Center will provide exactly that. And it will improve safety by lowering the number of pedestrians who must wait at crowded and narrow sidewalk bus stops; cutting costs and greenhouse gas emissions by allowing buses to wait in the center on layovers; and reducing downtown traffic congestion.

If the Primo BRT and Westside Multimodal Center aren't enough, the planned streetcar lines that will stop at the multimodal center and allow transfers to and from the Primo also have VIA officials and San Antonians pretty excited. San Antonio is the largest city in the nation without a rail transit system, and with the Modern Streetcar, Mayor Castro and the city have a vision to change that. The Modern Streetcar will offer high-capacity transit service through the downtown area and connecting with nearby neighborhoods and other destinations of interest.

We know from the experience of other cities that a streetcar system can provide a clean, sustainable form of transit that boosts economic growth by improving downtown access and enhancing mobility for tourists and residents. VIA is looking forward to seeing its streetcar initiative become a reality and bringing San Antonio one more "something" to remember.

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