San Antonio’s VIA street car project has been voted down twice by Bexar county voters in the past 14 years, and yet it is still moving forward. The South Texas Alliance has researched operating costs, but both VIA and the City have avoided answering simple questions.
On January 16, 2013, we requested review of costs and we told by City Manager Sheryl Sculley that one “was in progress. However on March 7, we were told that City staff had performed a “due diligence” on VIA’s proposal prior to the October 20, 2011 Council meeting and no further “due diligence” would be performed. We questioned why it took 60 days to just to tell us “we already did it”.
On March 28, we received a letter from Assistant City Attorney Ray Rodriguez that informed us the City would asking the state Attorney General to grant the City waiver so they could “withhold certain information” on the street cars project. We wonder if the City is hiding something.
Furthermore, based on our review of City Council meetings on October 20, 2011 and January 10, 2013, and an Open Records request dated April 5, 2013, it appears the City staff did not inform the City Council about cost of operating the street car system. While a figure of $187 million to “build it” may have been presented, the Council was not informed that streetcars would cost an average of 5.5 times as much as the bus to operate. Again, we wonder why?
VIA has also been complicit in this matter. Steven Lange of VIA responded to our March 18, request for information concerning ridership by claiming VIA had “no documents that are responsive to this request, “ even though the City’s earlier latter said ridership was one of the subjects covered in their Council presentation.
We are concerned the tax payers of San Antonio and Bexar County are being presented a foolish project for a public transportation system that is already operating in the red. This project will push VIA further into debt and leave the tax payer holding the bag.
Street cars are an old mode of transportation that will not limit its ability to serve all neighborhoods because it can only go where the rails go. They are more expensive to maintain and operated than buses. They add more cost to street repairs and take money away from suburbs and county road repairs. And finally, they have been voted down twice but voters, and still the Mayor and County Judge ignore the tax payers. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Mayor Julian Castro seem to be engaged in the unrestrained exercise of power. They even had their ally, Texas State Rep. Mike Villarreal, introduce a bill in Austin that exempted the City from asking for voters’ approval to sell public parkland.
The Declaration of Independence says “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Apparently, that’s not the case in San Antonio or Bexar County.