Victoria bus system changes to accommodate growth
June 21, 2013 at 1:21 a.m.
Updated June 22, 2013 at 1:22 a.m.
She climbed aboard the Blue Line outside Citizens Medical Center, dropped her fare in the till and took a seat near the front.
Victoria Barfield knows all the bus drivers by name and the schedules by heart.
“You know the buses run every 30 minutes, so you’re going to have to be in the heat,” Barfield said. “In the evenings, that sun on John Stockbauer will kill you, especially in the summertime.”
The 48-year-old Victoria resident takes the Blue Line north to put in another day. She works two jobs, one at Twin Pines and another for home health care, and takes the bus to get to both and for daily errands such as grocery shopping.
More than anything, she wants to see more covered bus stops throughout town.
Lisa Cortinas, Director of Transportation Services for the Golden Crescent Regional Planning Commission, is tasked with keeping up to date with the city’s transportation needs and responding to the city’s expansion.
“Victoria is extending out north, so those are some locations we’re looking at adding,” she said.
Along with looking at bus stop options for Leary Lane and extending the route to the new Wal-Mart, she is studying the cost of adding benches and shelters at the stops.
City Councilman Emett Alvarez said his goal is to see every bus stop have shelter.
That goal comes with a $5,000 price tag per stop.
“Overall, the ridership is increasing,” Alvarez said. “It’s growing. It’s being used.”
From behind the wheel of the Blue Line bus one recent morning, David Cardenas patiently helps new passengers plan their routes and transfers while greeting regulars as if they were old friends.
“As Victoria grows, we probably need to add more stops and extend some of the ones we have,” Cardenas said.
He started working for Victoria Transit about five years ago, after retiring from working for the county.
“I don’t like sitting at home doing nothing – this just gives me something to do,” Cardenas said. “You get to meet a lot of people; that’s what I like.”
Since 2008, the number of vehicles has increased to 96 from 75. Since 2010, fixed-route trips have increased 20 percent, according to information from Victoria Transit. From September 2012 through February 2013, the buses averaged 1,241 passenger trips daily and 178,631 annually.
Para-Transit service, where riders can be picked up at their homes, has also increased.
The regional planning commission implements service changes annually around October, based on ridership demands, requests for services and budget fluctuations.
As director of transportation services, Cortinas said the department is studying whether a new line would make economic sense.
The line would include stops at the women’s shelter on Nimitz Street, Victoria Christian Assistance Ministry, Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services and the Gulf Bend transitional housing site.
“It could be a social service line where you hit all the social service agencies,” Cortinas said. “We’ll make a new line for Nimitz, the food bank, VCAM, Perpetual Health Home and Goodwill.”
Once the new Wal-Mart is added to the Green Line, which serves south Victoria from the public library to Houston Highway, it will be maxed out, Cortinas said.
The city has four fixed-routes that run about every 30 minutes, except the orange line, which runs every hour, Cortinas said. It also offers paratransit rides to people who are unable to use the fixed-route system because of a disability. Those rides must be scheduled.
Along with the added bus stops, Cortinas said the fares, which have not changed since December 2008, could increase, but that would need to be studied and approved by the board of directors.
In 2008, they went to $1 from 75 cents. However, Cortinas had proposed increasing the fare to $1.50.
“The economy wasn’t so great at the time, so we decided to go with $1,” she said.
Formal board approval is required for all fare increases and major service changes.
Fares cover about 5 percent of the Victoria Transit budget; from the Federal Transit Ad ministration, Texas Depart ment of Transportation and other sources like Medicaid.
Victoria Transit increased its budget request to the city.
As a city councilman, Alvarez said he is looking at the broad impact of the transit system.
“It helps the community overall,” he said. “One of the philosophies that we all agreed to is to maximize tax dollars where it helps the greatest amount of people.”