Lack of information was a factor in hiatus of downtown’s streetcar project.
By Ansley Lewis
It is not unusual for rail initiatives, such as the failed $280 million streetcar project downtown, to face scrutiny, a VIA spokesperson said Sept. 16 during a presentation at the Hot Potato event in the Methodist Student Center.
The VIA Metropolitan Transit board of trustees voted 7-1 in August to reallocate $92 million provided by the Texas Department of Transportation to other bus transit projects.
Michael Dominguez, community planner for VIA, presented a brief PowerPoint presentation to a group of 20 students on VIA’s history, innovations and accomplishments.
“VIA is a leader, with regards to public agencies, when it comes to projects and sustainability,” Dominguez said.
For the third year in a row, VIA has been awarded for being the best maintenance team in North America, he said.
VIA serves eight park-and-rides and five transit centers and made about 45.9 million passenger trips in 2013.
Dominguez said VIA has 440 buses, 92 bus routes and 7,173 bus stops and makes 137,000 trips per day.
He emphasized how convenient the system is for students and listed several features: frequent service, electronic transfer, tickets and passes, day passes and improved data service planning.
Engineering sophomore Sean Nolen asked if the streetcar project had been approved whether it would have been built on the road or underground.
When Dominguez said the streetcar would have been built on ground level, Nolen asked what would happen when the safety gates went down and began to draw long lines of traffic.
“What happens when the gate arms do come down and they do not go back up, or they just fall down temporarily?” Nolen said. “I have been on many roads with congestion just because one gate arm went down, and there are miles and miles of cars sitting there.”
In response, Dominguez said it is not uncommon for problems with the gates to happen, and issues arise on a day-to-day basis.
Nolen noted a high number of deaths on railways, adding that tracks downtown would be dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists, along with the addition of more traffic.
Dominguez quickly emphasized the rails would have been flush with the ground, allowing the streetcars to move in existing traffic lanes.
Dominguez said there was a lack of information regarding how the streetcars would function downtown.
“A lot of the information did not get out there, unfortunately, in regards to the operating system and what it does and does not do,” Dominguez said. “There were hundreds of community briefings, but still a lack of information.”
Political science Professor Asslan Khaligh said, “Mr. Dominguez, you tell us the VIA bus service is one of the best in San Antonio — and I agree — so why do we need a streetcar?”
“The streetcar provided an option for people downtown,” Dominguez said. “For many of you who travel downtown, one of the first things you are going to realize is there is a lot of congestion. A lot of that congestion comes from buses.”
Dominguez said the streetcar could carry three busloads of passengers in one cart, effectively eliminating some of the congestion from buses.
In addition, Dominguez said the streetcar would have been cost-effective.
“It’s an economic generator,” Dominguez said. “Streetcars that have been put in other areas — development follows the rail, much more than development would follow a bus because there is permanence in that rail.”
The next Hot Potato focuses on “The Lottery: Gambling With Our State’s Education?” at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday at the Methodist Student Center at 102 Belknap Place.
For more information, call the center at 210-733-1441 or visit www.saumcm.org.