On a recent, sunny afternoon, Crystal Darby walked onto a bus.
Darby, 50, was headed out to do a number of errands, and because the bus is her primary mode of transportation, she said she finds herself on the bus a few times a week. She said she is glad Victoria’s public transit system exists.
“Everybody doesn’t have their own transportation, like me, and doesn’t have the money to get it either,” she said. “This is a big help here.”
Victoria Transit, the city’s bus system, is overseen by the Golden Crescent Regional Planning Commission. The commission also serves several rural counties around Victoria including DeWitt, Calhoun and Jackson.
While many residents, like Darby, commend the service, others struggle with its limitations. In recent years, some services have been cut back or stopped altogether, while the need for public transportation in the area continues to grow, said Lisa Cortinas, the director of transportation services.
Throughout recent years, hours of service have dwindled and payment options remain restricted. In 2016, buses stopped operating Sundays. The main reason for the cutbacks, Cortinas said, is clear: a lack of funding.
“There is a need for more service, but we really need more stable funding,” Cortinas said.
The transit system’s budget for the 2020 fiscal year is about $2.1 million, Cortinas said. The bulk of the funding comes from state and federal resources, she explained, including from the Federal Transit Administration and the Texas Department of Transportation.
Victoria City Council during a recent meeting approved giving $209,000 to the commission to help operate the system – the same amount the city has designated for the past six fiscal years – but Cortinas said it is not enough.
“There is a greater need,” she said.
Cortinas said she hears from different groups that there is a need for more public transportation in the community. At meetings held by Victoria’s Metropolitan Transportation Organization, Cortinas said, residents have expressed a desire for “improved public transit services.”
Maggie Bergeron, the transportation planner and MPO coordinator, said during public engagement activities, she often hears a general consensus from residents that there is a desire for more flexible routes and times, as well as benches and shelters.
“Overall, I hear people suggest things and state needs that would make public transit more equitable and accessible for the whole community,” she said.
But, the transit system is “maxed out” on what it can provide to residents, Cortinas said.
Shannon Basalone, 36, who also rode the bus on a recent afternoon, said she would ride it more often if it were more convenient. She said expanded weekend routes and a Sunday service would be helpful for residents.
In an ideal world, Cortinas said, the transit system would have extended service hours in both the morning and night. Sundays did have less ridership than other days of the week, she said, but it was used and would be a benefit to the community.
Also, she said, it would be ideal to expand routes, add more buses in service and accept automatic payments.
Nonetheless, Cortinas thanked the city for what it does contribute.
“I understand they are limited with money and the city has to put funding where the city needs it most, and what they give does help,” she said. “But more resources always means you can do more.”
But the limitations haven’t halted all progress. Plans call for 56 shelter projects to help offer protection from the extreme heat and help people feel more secure in areas that have low lighting, Cortinas said. The shelters should be finished late next year.
Also, there are other services specifically designed to expand resources for all residents, Cortinas said, such as the Choose My Ride program, which is catered toward seniors, and the paratransit service, which offers door-to-door transportation for people with mobility challenges.
And, for now, many residents have found a way to appreciate what Victoria Transit does offer. Darby said she enjoys getting to know bus drivers and other passengers during her rides and has found the public transit system to be reliable.
“People are friendly and the buses make sure you get where you’re going,” she said. “From where I stand, it’s going good.”