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Author of Blog: Daniel Day
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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Advice on Improving VIA Part I

I wrote before how VIA sucks back in August, and ask anyone who takes the bus, on a daily basis for they'll agree with the sentiment. It's not really VIA's fault that they suck. Roughly 80% of the the reasons they suck are things they have no control over such as the fact that they have to serve a very large spread out city and they only receive 1/2¢ sales tax to pay to operate the system. Compare that to Dallas, Houston and Austin which receive a full cent sales tax, VIA have to be thrifty with their cash. They are unable to operate in places like Live Oak, Hollywood Park, Helotes, Windcrest and other independent municipalities that just don't want to pay the sales tax and they just don't like public transit at all. They also have to comply with the American With Disabilities Act and the Federal Transit Administration which means that they have to pick up any wheelchair even though the bus is full and running late. 
The 20% that VIA has control over such as bus stop location, park-n-ride location, types of buses they use every day, how they collect fare. It is this 20% that VIA can work on fixing and this is where my advice comes in.  So for the new VIA board chair, Hope Andrade, here are my suggestions to fix the image of your failing bus service.  Yes your bus drivers are nice and I know a few.  Yes you have the best mechanics in North America and how you pay for them is WONDERFUL, but in the end, that is only doing so much.

1. Put Connecting Bus Stops Closer Together.

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On some of it's routes, they do a terrible disservice on where they locate bus stops.  This is a big problem mainly on the Looper 550/551.   I pointed this out in my Streetcar series, Streetcar Part I, VIA Sucks when I pointed out the fact on how the 28 and 515 bus stop #16838 is nearly a quarter of a mile away from the connecting route of the 550 bus stop #96897. (For the record, I mistook bus route number for I always get confused on which number of the 550/551 Looper is going.)  For some reason, VIA feels it necessary to discriminate against the hostage users (my term for transit dependent people) on my side of town.  This is not the only bus stop, for the connecting bus stop of the 551 was recently moved from the traffic island on WW White and Rigsby (Image 32-1) and was moved south to the Hold Caterpillar Training Center.(Image 32-2)  Yes TxDOT recently repaved the sidewalks on this part of WW White, but now this bus stop is further from places where people go to such as the 99 Cent Only Store and the CPS Energy bill paying center. (Image 32-3)  Why they couldn't put this bus stop just pass the Burger King is beyond me, (Image 32-3) but as the actions of VIA speak louder than words, they obviously saying that you should buy a car so you don't have to worry where they locate the bus stops. 
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This isn't the only bus stop like this for the 550/551 Looper Bus Stops are notoriously placed far away from connecting routes especially along the frontage rd of Loop 410.  This is one of the reason why the majority of the hostage users in San Antonio considers VIA to suck.  I understand that sometime you cannot get the bus stop where you would want it in the first place, but that doesn't mean that you should give up on not striving for good location and keep the walking distance down to a minimum between connecting bus stops because if the goal of VIA is to keep Paratransit usage down, then keeping the bus stops far apart will only encourage those who qualify for Paratransit to use it more often.  VIA also wants more people to ride their buses, well when San Antonio sidewalks suck, (#sasidewalkssuck) having those bus stops to where they don't have to walk as far just makes sense.

This is not the only example for they're plenty of examples on the 550/551 Looper, all across town. The worse being able to connect from the Looper to the VIA PRIMO, 100 route at Wonderland Mall of the Americas.  Please fix that one before you tackle the ones along Loop 410.
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2. Transit Center Locations.

VIA has a mix history when it comes to transit center locations.  For this reporting, I will also include clusters of bus stops like Naco Pass.  The Transit Centers they got right and put in the right places are Kel-Lac, Mainland, Walmart at 281 and Loop 1604, North Star, and the Walmart at Rigsby and 410.  The ones they got in the wrong places are Madla, Naco Pass, and Randolph. I'll just won't talk about Crossroads, for VIA is considering to get rid of it and move it closer to the Primo Station on Fredricksburg Rd near Crossroads BLVD. I also will not be talking about the Medical Center Transit Center and Ingram for I have mix feelings about them unless someone asks me to in a future post. And from my understanding, VIA is about to make mistakes on it's future transit centers such as the one planned for Brooks City Base and Stone Oak. 

What Via Got Right
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Hostage users like myself depend on the bus to be able to get to the grocery store, to get to work and to be able to go to other places to run errands.  When VIA chose the location for the Kel-Lac Transit Center, (Image 32-4) they located it in the best possible spot, right next to a neighborhood, and right next to a Shopping Center where K-mart and Handy Andys use to be. Today the shopping center has several shops including a Family Dollar and a flea market. It's better than the old location between US 90 Access Rd and the Freeway which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Kudos to VIA for working out a deal so the buses could use the backside of this shopping center for a quick way through back to Military Dr.  I can only hope that the owner of this shopping center will improve upon the location and turn it into a mix use area with apartments, and maybe even a grocery store like there use to be.  Also I bet that VIA is actually adding value to this property.  So if they're paying increase property tax to the County and the City because of Kel-Lac, then shouldn't that increase amount that the property is paying go to VIA? That is how they use to fund transportation, not by a user fee, but by a Land Value Added Tax.

The North Star Transit Center replaced the old bus stops on Rector, and although those bus stop shelters still exist, they at least placed this Transit Center right in the middle of the action.  Due to height changes in the terrain, it is somewhat cut off from from the mall.  But due to TxDOT's improvements to the sidewalks in this area, it's now a better place to walk, and you can still access the mall from the transit center location by either walking, or catching a bus to the old bus stops on Rector. Although VIA could work on shortening the distance one must walk to the mall from this location, for the most part, it's properly located so one can access nearly all of the businesses on foot both inside and outside loop 410 all be it, a somewhat of a distance to walk.

Also the cluster of Bus Stops at Walmarts such as Mainland, 281 At Loop 1604, and Rigsby At Loop 410 are also good choices as well.  Now I'm not a big fan of Walmart, but when your grocery stores are limited to only two which are HEB and Walmart, and when you live with out a car like I do, (hostage user) your glad that the bus stops right next to the store instead of being at the edge of the parking lot along the stroad.
What VIA Got Wrong
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The transit centers that VIA got wrong are Madla, Naco Pass, and Randolph.  These transit centers are located away from places where people want go. In Madla's case, (Image 32-5) it located away from South Park Mall, it's located away from the apartments on S Zarzamora, and there just happens to be a fence on Cantrell Dr blocking access to the neighborhood from the transit center.  Now it just happens to be in a perfect spot for a future train station for the Lone Star Rail, however, I will stand by my opinion, it is simply a study collecting dust and there will be no train station at this location ever.  If VIA is ever to improve service on the South Side around South Park Mall, they better put it in a better location, like in South Park Mall's parking lot.  
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Randolph Park And Ride has a history. The buses that serve this place was once located at Windsor Park Mall, now the home of Rackspace.  Back in 1992, (maybe I got this year wrong) a terrible murder took place there.  A man waiting for the bus to go home just had 40 cents in his pocket, the bus fare amount back then.  Another man came along and in the process of robbing him, killed him for not having any money on him except 40 cents.  It was this tragedy that prompted VIA to move the transit center to it's current location at I-35 and Loop 410. (Image 32-6)  People don't know, but the neighborhoods around Windcrest are very dangerous neighborhoods. What VIA got wrong at this location was where they put the parking lot, and where they put the bus shelter.  In a perfect world, the transit shelter would be located next to the intersection of Randolph Blvd and Crestway Dr, while the parking lot would be located next to the interstate. But no, they had to do it the other way so people would have to walk farther.  I don't think that the designers of this place were thinking about walking in the July heat, but I can only hope that today's designers, architects, and engineers will take into account that walking long distances in a 100 degrees heat is a no go for everyone. Other locations could have been sought out such as Perrin Beitel and Loop 410, but no matter.
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Now Naco Pass (Image 32-7) is another failure for it is located far away from the businesses such as HEB, Walgreens and the Walmart around the intersection of Thousand Oaks and Nacogdoches.  The problem is that this cluster of bus stops is that it is located behind a bowling alley at Uhr Ln and Naco Pass.  Maybe one day, VIA can forgo this location and put this cluster closer to the intersection of Thousand Oaks at Nacogdoches, but until then, we hostage users are just going to have to suffer, either wait an hour for a bus going to the proper place, or walk to these places.
 
Future Transit Centers
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They're many new transit centers and park-n-rides planned all across San Antonio and Bexar County. One such transit center is being proposed for Brooks City Base.(Image 32-8)  If VIA want to improve it's image, they better located this transit center at the intersections of Goliad and SE Military, or at City Base landing and SE Military.  It should be quite obvious why it should be located here, because if it's located further into Brooks, then it will simply be cutting off people from where they want to go, like the HEB, the Walmart Supercenter, the Best Buy and even the Target.  The same rules should also go for the future transit centers of Stone Oak, Beorne, and even New Braunfels. Kel-Lac should be the example that VIA strives towards, connecting their patrons to the place that they need to go to.  Transit centers are there to connect multiple bus routes at one location.  They do a better job when they also are able to connect to places that people need to go.

So far what I have written should tell you that we're not just transit users, but we're pedestrians and people just don't like to walk very far.  So closing the distances between bus stops and where people want to go should be a goal for future transit centers and connecting bus stops. This blog is getting pretty long, so I leave the other suggestions in my next blog post in two weeks, so until then, enjoy.  

Images:
32-1: A Google Street View of the former location of the 551 Bus Stop at Rigsby showing by accident where the 30 bus stop is Viewing North.
32-2: Current location of the 551 bus stop showing it to be farther away from Rigsby viewing North
32-3: A Google Satellite Map showing where bus stops where, and are currently and where some business are where people need to go.
32-4: A Google Satellite Map showing where the Current and old Kel-Lac transit center are at US 90 and Military Dr.
32-5: A Google Map showing the location and how things are cut off from Madla Transit Center on the South Side of Town.  I didn't choose the Satellite Map because I wanted to show the walking distance from a random address in the neighborhood next to the transit center and how it's pretty much cut off from everything.
32-6: A Google Satellite Map of Randolph Park-n-Ride showing where the Transit Shelter and the parking should have been placed. 
32-7: A Google Satellite Map of Naco Pass Showing how it is poorly located.
32-8: A Google Satellite Map of Brooks City Base Showing the future failure of VIA's future Transit Center.

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