By Alma Linda Manzanares
VIA Metropolitan Transit plans to open a $10 million transit center on Brooks City-Base on the South Side of San Antonio to support the demand for public transportation brought on by area growth.
The proposed preferred site for the Brooks Transit Center sits at the northeast corner of Sidney Brooks and South New Braunfels Avenue. VIA chose the site from a field of eight, generated from two years of public feedback.
Brian Buchanan, VIA’s senior vice president of development, said VIA hopes to create a transit-oriented development — a live, work and play environment centered around a transit hub.
Brooks Transit Center would incorporate services supplied by other transit facilities — customer service, ticket sales, restroom facilities — but possibly offer housing or dining options, he said.
According to a frequently asked questions sheet, the facility includes a bus platform with eight bus bays, an exterior-lighted waiting space, interior air-conditioned space, bicycle racks, real-time information signs and shared parking.
“It gives people that village-type experience where they can do multiple things as opposed to just going there for transit,” Buchanan said. “You can live, work and play there without having a vehicle or needing a vehicle to move around. The idea is can we be part of something else over there, not just a stand alone facility.”
Texas A&M University-San Antonio’s campus, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas facility and Eagle Ford Shale development surround the potential transit center.
The facility will accommodate 19,000 daily trips in the area, but accessibility to public transportation between A&M-San Antonio’s two campuses may continue to cause problems for the university’s commuter student population.
Students have access to public transportation to the university’s Main Campus through bus route 520, which runs every 30 minutes from 5:30 a.m.-10:10 p.m. However, the problem lies in students who have to travel approximately 10 miles between Main Campus and the Brooks City-Base Campus, the university’s second campus that houses the entire College of Business.
Commuters can travel from Main Campus to Brooks Campus through bus route 550/551, which drives down Southeast Military Drive, and 520, but must walk about a mile from Southeast Military Drive to get to the Brooks Campus.
Bus route 34 drops passengers off at Sydney Brooks and New Braunfels Avenue, closer to Brooks Campus than the mile-long walk, but adds about another hour to the trip.
Alumnus Ted Knapinsky said he had no difficulties riding the VIA bus until he had to travel to Brooks Campus.
“I was just horrified because it was in the middle of no-man’s land,” he said.
Knapinsky, who relies on public transportation, said the walk from Southeast Military Drive to Brooks Campus was problematic, especially compared to the bus at Main Campus which drops students off directly in front of the university.
He said VIA’s initiative does not solve the problem if students still have to walk to the Brooks Campus and instead, a shuttle between the campuses should be provided.
University Librarian Deirdre McDonald bikes between the two campuses because of the difficulty of taking the bus. She said the ride takes about 40 minutes.
“It’s about double the time it takes to drive and about half the time it takes to take the bus,” McDonald said. “It’s really hard to get to Brooks by bus.”
The commute between the two campuses by car takes about 15 minutes. A bus ride takes an additional hour.
McDonald said VIA needs to make its service reliable and fast for students.
“What people who are relying on public transportation really care about are those two things,” she said. “If we continue to offer services on both campuses, it really only makes sense that there’s an easy and convenient way.”
Douglas Carter, A&M-San Antonio’s assistant vice president of external affairs and global partnerships, supports VIA’s initiative. He agreed that the university would benefit from a transit center at Brooks because students could possibly ride the bus between the two campuses with ease.
“I think it’s a great marriage,” he said. “The more ease that is associated with mass transit, I’m a firm believer that more people would use it.”
Buchanan said there is no official link between the two campuses, but it is possible.
According to a Brooks Transit Center fact sheet, the facility will immediately serve riders using bus routes 20, 34 and 550/551. Express Bus service to and from the central business district and connections to Elmendorf, Texas, will also be offered.
Besides possibly becoming a convenience for students commuting between the two campuses, Carter said overall the transit center would provide better access to education.
He noted that the reasoning for building a large university on the South Side was to provide educational opportunities for an underserved area.
“So, tie that into transportation, we’re here, we’re making ourselves accessible to the masses, however everyone still can’t get to us,” he said. “There are people from the country, there are people from the city who simply just do not have access or the availability to get here on a daily basis because of lack of traditional or consistent transportation.”
According to data provided by the university’s office of institutional research, the majority of students are from areas other than the city’s South Side. The Southeast and Southwest sides count for only 10.7 percent of the university’s student population.
Natalia Martinez, Brooks Development Authority’s public affairs manager, agreed the transit facility will provide easier access to students at A&M-San Antonio, residents on the base and surrounding areas, and Eagle Ford Shale workers who live at Brooks and commute south.
“We have a lot of people who work in Eagle Ford and are spending a lot of time here at Brooks because this is where they have their apartment or this is where they like to hang out on the weekend,” she said.
VIA and the Brooks Development Authority have worked to develop a transit center on the base, signing a memorandum of understanding in February.
Buchanan said VIA planners are working on preliminary designs and engineer work for the project.
Brooks Transit Center is part of projects VIA planned to complete when their board approved the Long Range Comprehensive Transportation Plan in 2011. The plan identifies and prioritizes high capacity transit corridors for Bexar County and outlines transit improvement and funding options for improvements through 2035.
The first five years of the plan, called SmartMove, aims to develop three transit centers, including the Brooks Transit Center, a park and ride facility, improved downtown patron amenities and a downtown modern streetcar project.
Buchanan said $260 million is invested into SmartMove and the Brooks Transit Center would cost $10 million.
He expects the center open in 2016 with six to 10 bus routes traveling through the area.
Martinez said transportation helps aid BDA’s mission, which is to act as an economic development catalyst in the South region.
With the rapid growth of the university and the spur of economic development, Carter said the South Side is becoming quite important to the city because it can support substantial growth.
“The only place for the city to grow is South because we have the land and the infrastructure,” he said. “It really is ripe for that development and having a VIA transit center here is just that one more piece of the puzzle that makes sense.”