Author of Blog: Daniel Day

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What VIA Gets Right

As a person who criticizes VIA a lot and as a person who lives in a city that doesn't appreciate their public transit service, it is easy to forget what our transit agency does right. So in this posting, I have decided to point out everything they do right and just maybe this is the reason why we constantly see all those award signs as to how VIA is the best transit system, while at the same time we shake our head and wonder how the hell did they get that. It is because the average VIA rider rarely travels to other cities and uses those public transit systems to compare it to ours that we don't know how good we got it.

But Stops:
We take this for granted that VIA has well marked out bus stop sign and the routes posted on that sign to tell you if they stop there. Everywhere you go, you'll see one of these unique signs and you will know right off the bat that this is a bus stop and that these routes stop here and if there happens to be no Sunday service. They also have a bus stop ID number which makes it pretty easy to figure out what time the bus will stop there by using their app or texting that ID number to 52020. In other cities this isn't the case just like this perfect example of this bus stop on The T in Fort Worth across from the Fort Worth Convention Center.(Image 38-2) Many systems across the country fail their riders by not doing what VIA does to their bus stops.  .

Route Numbers
VIA numbers it's bus routes very well. Except for the 100 Primo and perhaps future Primo routes, the bus routes 1-99 go to downtown and the 500's are crosstown buses and 600's are neighborhood bus routes in the suburbs. Also you can tell which set of numbers serve what side of town just by reading the number.  Image 38-3 shows how they pretty much number the buses that serve to and from Downtown. In other cities especially in Austin, the route number just don't tells it where it goes, but it also tells how it serves creating a complicated mess of multiple routes. Imagine if they renumbered the 76 Old Hwy 90 West,(Image 38-5) and gave it a new number like 376 to tell you people that it is a bus route that skips stops. VIA describes what type of service it is by the designation as either an Express, Skip, or Metro type route.

In other cities, the same bus route number that serves one side of town, will also serves the other side of town and go in multiple directions.(Image 38-6) This isn't the case here in San Antonio for as the bus enters downtown, it changes it bus route number and continues to the other side of the city. People might complain about this, but in reality, this is a good thing because there’s no confusion on what numbers serve what side of town from Downtown.(Image 38-3) By allowing the bus route numbers to change it's route number, you allow the efficiency of providing buses to needed areas. Also by changing the route number, you remove confusion on where the bus is going.

VIA works on keeping the routes parallel and strait, rarely overlapping with each other. Only a handful of routes split off to serve a greater area like the number 28, or the 75 for example but always return to back the other way. Unfortunately they failed to keep this simple lesson when in mind when they returned bus service down Walters Street, thus causing chaos for those trying to get to either Walters St, or E Southcross and WW White. I hope those at VIA reading this will fix this problem in the next round of changes so that when the 515 get to McCreless, they can change the route number to 509, thus elevating any confusion.

VIA allows Bikes on the BRT
In all the other cities around the country, only VIA allows the bicycles to come aboard their BRT. In Austin, Los Angeles, Fort Worth (Image 38-4) and many other cities which have BRT services, they have a bicycle rack on the front of their BRT if they even thought it was needed to put a bicycle rack on in the first place.

VIA's Schedules are Easy to Read
Unless you actually traveled to other cities, you never know how easy it is to read a bus schedule here in San Antonio.(Image 38-5) This has been the case for a long, long time even before they redid the routes back in 2004. Each bus schedule have the route map on the top the city's streets that you would normally see on a regular street map right behind the cover. Then they have the times of where and when below in vertical rows.(Image 38-5)

If you don't think that the average VIA bus schedule isn't easy to read, then I'll leave you with this beautiful bus schedule map of the number 1 from Fort Worth The T.(Image 38-6) If you can understand where this bus goes and what time it gets (Download the PDF schedule) there, please get back to me, for I barely know myself. Even when San Antonions used DART and CapMetro and say that those systems are better than VIA, for apparently even those schedules are a little hard to read. Why they couldn't use the same pattern VIA does on all it's schedule is beyond me.(Image 38-5) Seems to me it would be the logical thing to do.

VIA Operates on Major Holidays.
We're spoiled San Antonio for we get bus service on Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years Day, and even the Forth Of July. You might not think this to be a big deal, but in other cities across this nation, they shut down the buses for major holidays. I was in Albuquerque on Christmas Day 2007 and there was no bus service on that day. I had to walk everywhere to get to where I needed to go. So the next time your complaining about only Sunday Service on Christmas, then take into account many major cities in the USA don't have service on that holiday.

Trash Cans at Bus Stops
This is a no brainer. Go to other cities, and they're a lot of trash on the sidewalk around the bus stop.

No Subcontractor Operating this Route
Except for Grey Lines Operating the Para-transit service, something I wish VIA would stop doing, every bus driver, every mechanic is a VIA employee. It's the main reason why we see them win awards year after year. It's the reason why we see their bus drivers on TV and newspapers worldwide touting how they're a good driver.  With this arrangement, VIA gets to tout the most efficient cost ratio compared to any other transit agency in the Sate of Texas, unlike Austin, Houston, and other cities, in which those transit agency outsources to a for profit corporation to operate their services. Somebody who's politically correct will say how this is a good thing and it saves money, but in reality it cost services and money to the tax payers and those who work for these corporations operating the transit services are not loyal to the transit agencies themselves but are loyal to the corporations themselves first. I should know for if I told you what I use to do for a living, you would have thought I worked for that company, but I didn't. In actual fact, I worked for a subcontractor that company hired. I was never loyal to the company that I did the work for because I was loyal to the subcontractor that I worked for because they signed my paychecks and that company the subcontractor did the work for was constantly mistreating us all the time and accused us, the subcontractor employees (me) of things we never did. You do not have this problem at VIA because that VIA bus driver is loyal to VIA. In Houston, the transit agency outsources it's operations to First Transit and I've heard stories from people who live in Houston of bus drivers passing by people waiting at bus stops with them clearly seen. Rarely do I hear of VIA bus drivers missing people at bus stops. It's one of the reasons why they're putting in those new bus stops shelters that I'm complaining about. This is so the bus driver can see people at the bus stop and well stop.


The Lowest of Fares in the USA
So many people believe that they receive all their funding from the fare box which is a lie. And yet, we have some of the lowest fares in the Nation. A ride on VIA cost $1.20 and if you need to transfer to another bus, it will cost $.15 cents more. The Fare structure is pretty simple too (Image 38-7) for everyone can buy a Big Pass for $35 and use that pass for 31 days to ride all the types of bus services (including Express service) all month long. In Austin, they have three different fare types and monthly passes to accompany each type of fare. One for their local metro services, one for their Express services, and finally another one for their Commuter Rail and BRT (Primo) services. (Image 38-8) When I was in Austin last time without a bicycle, I bitch and complain that I had to pay extra just to use the Train there. What a ripoff to live in a city like Austin and have a terrible fare structure keeping those who depend on the bus off of the services they need the most. So far as I have understood, VIA has no plans to have a separate fare structure for any future rail services nor create a separate fare structure for any existing or new Primo services.

It could be worse, you could live in a place that has a zone fare structure in place which makes the poorest of those who cannot afford to live in the inner city pay more just to get around.

VIA Receives only a 1/2 Cent Sales Tax
Compared to other cities such as Dallas, Houston, and Austin and even San Marcos which receive a full cent sales tax. Under the charter that created the agency, they can only collect ½ cent sales tax to pay for transit operations. Every time you buy a soda, a t-shirt, or any other retail item at a store here in San Antonio and only municipalities that pay for their services, do you pay for VIA. This is the reason why they cannot provide overnight bus services, and why they consolidate the bus services into combining bus routes in the Line-up services at 10:30pm, 11:30pm and 12:30am. But with such a limited funding source, they're still able to provide 15 minute services on many of it's routes and expanded services to other routes when they're able to just like they did recently to several routes. I have never know VIA to cut services unless they absolutely had to and when they were able to, they brought it back.

There's a lot of people here in San Antonio that equates VIA = Sucks. And I'm not immune to this for I write what is wrong with VIA all the time. I recently wrote a two part series on how VIA could improve their image and services, Part I, and Part II. Yes they need to improve this and that here and there, but it's small things and many times it's out of VIA's hand for they're lacking the resources to fix that problem in the first place like overnight bus service, or a lack of a grid street pattern outside Loop 410. While I was in Fort Worth, I found three things VIA could do to improve things (Image 38-9 thru 38-11) but you have to remember folks, we have a very good system and a system that is easy to understand. I would never want the route numbering system Fort Worth has nor their bus stop signs. That would simply work to keep San Antonio Lame and VIA for the most part works on Keeping San Antonio Real. 




38-1: A 515 Bus Stop at the corner of Southcross Ranch and Copperhead LN looking South.  Illustrating the number, the no Sunday service,and Bus Stop ID Number.
38-2: The T Bus Stop in Fort Worth across from the Fort Worth convention Center on Houston St.
38-3: A illustration I designed showing how VIA determines how they number their bus routes.  It's rare to find this same technique in numbering routes in other cities.
38-4: The Spur at it's bus stop at the Fort Worth Intermodal Center illustrating the bike rack they have on board compared to VIA's Primo which allows bicycles inside the bus.
38-5: VIA's bus schedule showing how easy it is to read the map and the timetable. 
38-6: The T number 1 route map showing how confusing it is to figure out where that bus goes. 
38-7: VIA's bus fare structure, showing how simple it is and cheap to ride the bus.
38-8: CapMetro's fare structure showing how confusing it is to use.  
38-9:  Currently VIA doesn't allow people to put any item over the front wheels.  However in For Worth on the T, people routinely put things over the front wheel to keep the walkway cleared.
38-10: I found this humurous sign on the buses in Fort Worth.  Seems like we could do the same thing here in San Antonio

38-11:  Currently VIA doesn't  have a garbage can on the bus, but in Fort Worth, the placed one right behind the seat next to the back door. 

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