Author of Blog: Daniel Day

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Empty Buses

Some good news is coming to VIA.  Apparently Rey Saldaña’s short dependency on VIA convince him that things needed improvement. So he is proposing that the Advance Transportation District funds that are dedicated to the City, be given to VIA to improve bus service.  It's an awesome plan because one of the main reasons why VIA SUCKS, despite being an incredible system, is that they only receive 1/2 cent sales tax. 

For those who aren't familiar with the Advance Transportation District, (ATD) it was voted on back in 2004 to raise the sales tax 1/8 cent sales tax for transportation improvements.  Half of the 1/8th cent tax goes to VIA while the other have is further divided between the City of San Antonio and TxDot. Rey Saldaña’s plan is to take the City's portion of this sales tax and give it entirely to VIA to help pay for more bus service. 

Now for the record, I'm all for this, with VIA having more money to spend, they can increase the frequency of some of their routes and even speed up the process of buying new buses. But despite the improved service, there's a simple flaw, you're going to have more empty buses. 

You see there's a reason why service sucks for the people of District 4, and that is because when you have empty buses in the first place, the people in charge tend to either remove those resources entirely or put those resources into other ares.  Now just because Saldaña wants to improved the frequency of some bus routes doesn't mean that more people are going to ride the bus, it means that those like myself who depend on VIA, we're going to get more options and less time at the bus stop.

There are many reasons why people don't ride the bus. I mention those reasons last year when I wrote about the Streetcar project.  It is a simple fact that the majority of San Antonio gets around by car and no matter how much you increase that service, those people aren't going to choose to ride the bus.  I have met people who cannot comprehend getting around San Antonio without a car and when they lose that car, they basically become prisoners in their own home. I cannot understand why such a person would choose to remain a prisoner despite having some type of bus service that would help them get access to the wider world.  Now this happens all the time and it's been my experience that this refusal to use VIA seems to be with the majority of San Antonio when they become car less. 

The main reason why public transit bus service pretty much sucks throughout North America is because we get empty buses.  Despite what you might hear about buses being superior to rail because it's "Flexible."  Well always remember that the bus's flexibility is also the biggest weakness to buses for buses are so flexible, that they can be removed from service tomorrow.  And that what pretty much happens across the country.  When buses start carrying less and less people, the politicians and the naysayers against public transit start pointing out how a waste of money it is to operate all those empty buses and thus the service starts to dwindle.  At first, its just one or two buses removed from a 30 minute frequency to every hour.  Because the service is less reliable, fewer people ride it, thus more service is cut and it becomes an endless spiral to where there's less and less service to in the end, there's none. 

And That is my fear, we're for a short time are going to get improved service, but when that improvement isn't being utilized by the general public, it will eventually be cut.  And that is something I don't want to happen.  There's a reason why I call Transit Dependent people like myself Hostage Users, it is because we're a hostage to the decisions of people who drive cars and those people for the most part, don't think of the consequences when they remove bus service because of that service having empty buses. 

If  Rey Saldaña and the rest of the city council can allow to have empty buses for the next ten years, then I'm all for giving the city's share of the ATD to VIA.  But if he and the rest of the City council wants more people to ride the bus, well I suggest that he makes the bus fare free for the residence and make the tourist and others who are not residences of San Antonio pay for their bus rides. I wrote about this on how we could improve VIA especially providing free bus rides for the citizens of San Antonio for it was number 6 on my list.  


Now in Gilbert Garcia's Story in the Express News (Image 45-1) mentions that there's some city staffer's who are resistant to  Rey Saldaña’s idea and that's because the city lacks funding to pay for roads and sidewalks.  The reason why we have such a shortfall of funding is because  we don't utilize our tax base efficiently enough.  If you want to understand this more, I recommend that you take an hour of your time and watch the presentation of Joe Minicozzi at the Strong Towns Memphis Boot Camp (Video Above) for he'll explain why cities across the nation has such a shortfall in providing for transportation and other civic services we all take for granted.


45-1:  An image of  Rey Saldaña’s waiting for the bus in the rain from the SA Current.
45-2:  Screenshot of of Gilbert Garcia's story.  Remember you need a subscription to read the entire article.

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