Friday, April 3, 2009
Give up our personal autos. That's an outrageous thought to most of us Texicans.......
Drive through my neighborhood from 7 a.m. until 9 a.m. or from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., and the road is filled with parents driving their little darlings to school.
And that begs the question: "Has anyone ever heard of a bus?"
In my part of Texas, taking the bus or other forms of public transit is not cool. If you live in the Lone Star Republic, driving a car is an expected right, even if it's a 1982 Chevy Truck with 350,000 miles.
As someone who has lived in Europe for two tours, I have seen public transportation effectively work. And, in the course of traveling to places like Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, I have seen how public transit can work well. On a recent trip to Atlanta, I used public transportation to travel to the ASIS trade show, saving about $75 in rental car fees (and not including parking, gas and other costs).
My daughter, the 23-year-old law school student, thought the MARTA public transportation in Atlanta was "ghetto," and in the course of my public travels, I learned there was a certain subway stop near the Olympic Stadium that should be avoided at all costs.
Yet, I found the public transportation system in both of those cities to work pretty efficiently. And, I met a lot of Europeans who were saving money by forgoing rental cars to take the subway to the trade show.
So, the question arises, what would it take to make public transportation cool for Texicans? Henry Munoz, speaking at the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce Transportation Summit today, said his organization has to change. One way, Mr. Munoz, a VIA commissioner, said his organization needs improve is to attract white collar workers like me. One way that VIA can change its perspective among white collar workers is to add WIFI to its buses, he said in today's summit.
While the possibility of surfing the Internet while driving to work or an appointment downtown is appealing, here's what the folks at VIA need to fix first. If I had the resources to fix the San Antonio public transportation system, I would first address the issue of bus stops. Our city needs to have bus stops that protect people from rain (a rare occurrence in San Antonio these days) and the elements.
And, our city needs to add buses in my neighborhood. My son, Pete, has Asperger's Syndrome. At 20, he doesn't want to drive because of his mild autistic condition so I have to drive him everywhere, so the closest bus stop is five miles away. I wish there were buses for him to go to work this summer.
If we have a reliable public transportation system in place, we can relieve the congestion of our roads. And, we can spend less behind the wheel. As someone who took a one-hour bus commute every morning to go to work in Naples, Italy on a chartered bus, I can attest to how public transportation makes one's life better.
To VIA credit, the bus is subsidized by only 15-percent of its bus fares. So, for it to work in San Antonio, it would need to find some other ways to increase ridership. Many in my Stone Oak neighborhood don't want to provide the land or space for a bus docking station like the one near Crossroads Mall because of the perception that having a VIA station would make our community "ghetto."
However, as Munoz and other North San Antonio Transportation advocates noted there are communities along the Eastern seaboard where a location close to a public transit system is a valued part of a real estate package. For San Antonio residents to embrace public transportation, we need to change our attitude about public transportation. We are fortunate to be able to afford cars, but we need to rethink our desire to go everywhere when reliable public transportation (think school buses) are available to us.