San Anto natives, remember Via's Route 15? How about the Purple trolley route? Neither one exists anymore. When I was a kid and lived off that route, the end of the line for the number 30 was beside El Tipico; now that bus goes outside Loop 410 on a regular basis--sometimes all the way out to St. Hedwig.
I grew up riding the bus and still ride it occasionally now. I'm a big fan of mass transportation. What I am not a fan of is fixed-rail mass transit.
Why? The first paragraph explains it. Once Ft. Sam Houston became a closed post following 9/11, the 15 was scrubbed. The Purple route trolley--which once ran to the old Brady Green and Cattleman's Square and behind Market Square and over to the courthouses--was dropped very recently due to low ridership. The 30's route was extended when growth (a nice new subdivision + Wal-Mart, to name just two things) merited it. The 36 is another route that was extended. The 632, which I used to live on, was changed drastically fairly recently, and another circulator route that ran out of Randolph Park & Ride--the 639, I believe--was recently dropped and merged with the route 21 (which itself has had its route changed drastically from when I was riding it as a teen).
Via's strength--the strength of any bus system--is that flexibility. Via has the added strength of low fares. Light rail threatens both of those strengths, and fixed-rail streetcars do as well.
Via is grabbing for what they call "choice" riders. These are pretty much what the name indicates--people who have a choice to ride the bus. Most of the folks who take it have no other option for transportation. Bus riding is very much a class issue in San Antonio--better a hooptymobile with no front fender and a wired-shut driver's door than a seat on the city bus!
Light- and fixed- rail systems would change that. Or so is obviously the theory, especially with the north/south line, which runs from the King William/Southtown area on one end up to the Mahnke Park neighborhood on the other. (Via's courting hipsters?)
So where does that leave the bulk of Via's riders, the non-choice folks? Ridership of fixed-rail streetcars would be limited, probably much below what Via hopes. Either Via dumps the Red trolley route and causes the mother of all traffic snarls in front of the Alamo in order to install streetcar rail in order to force people onto this streetcar, or they're going to double-up the routes, and once the novelty of a streetcar wears off, the tourists are going to realize they can't take the streetcar to the Alamo and Market Square, and stick to the actual trolley. The non-choice folks, meanwhile, aren't likely to take a small streetcar over a large bus, not any more than they do now. I don't see how it can be self-sustaining, not without a fare increase. So, do you soak the tourists for the price of an Express bus ride ($2.50), or force the non-choice riders to subsidize the tourist stupidity with an across-the-board fare hike? Something tells me it will be the latter. While par for the course for this city, it's no less disappointing.
Trust City Council (who don't ride Via anyway!) to think this is a great idea.