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Mayoral candidates talk traffic, toll roads, TNCs at forum

Candidates weigh in on major regional rail project

SAN ANTONIO – The top candidates in the San Antonio mayoral race discussed a host of transportation issues Wednesday at a candidate forum hosted by the Austin-San Antonio Corridor Council and the Lone Star Rail District.

Mayor Ivy Taylor, former state Rep. Mike Villarreal, former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte and former Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson fielded questions on traffic, toll roads and street cars among other issues.

The forum began with each candidate outlining their transportation priorities.

"At the top of the list, right now, is maintaining the current infrastructure that we have," said Taylor. "San Antonio is not different form many major cities in that we have a backlog related to improvements and maintenance that needs to occur for the infrastructure that we currently have. Along with that another priority is addressing congestion."

Van de Putte said for the city to grow in a sustainable fashion city leaders will have to make a commitment safety and reducing congestion on roadways.

"The priorities here should be to build support for the type of projects that are going to pay-off economically," she said.

Mike Villarreal struck a similar tone in his answer and gave a nod to alternative modes of transportation like ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft

"We need to address the congestion in our most clogged corridors and highways. We need to make our streets safer. We need to create more transportation options," he said.

Adkisson believes projects that add road capacity or make public transportation more efficient can help reduce congestion, but he said the public must be involved.

"My priorities are make sure that we educate the people that we're supposed to represent, not by trying to cram things down their throat but going out into the communities and talking with them," Adkisson said.

With Lone Star Rail District officials in the audience each candidates expressed support for efforts to build a regional rail system from Georgetown to San Antonio. Travel time between San Antonio and Austin would be 75 minutes.

Taylor said the city was not ready to commit money to the project because an adequate funding mechanism had yet to be identified.

"We don't have the funds in our yearly budget right now to cover the operating costs, but we're certainly open to innovative ways of thinking about where the financing could come from," Taylor said.

The other candidates said the city must be aggressive in helping the project move forward.

"I think we're missing the biggest potential in economic development if we do not put this Lone Star Rail project as one of the highest priorities," Van de Putte said.

"I believe I-35 is shutting down, and we've got to get cracking or we're going to live our lives out in traffic jams," Adkisson said.

The candidates also offered their thoughts on whether toll roads was an appropriate remedy for the city's congestion problem.

Taylor expressed support for congestion pricing - where drivers can pay to drive in a certain lane during certain hours of the day.

"I think we have to be very careful if we're talking about using toll revenue to expand our capacity, because I don't think we'll get to where we want to be," she said.

 Van de Putte said reluctance in the state legislature to adequately fund transportation in Texas could make toll roads a necessary evil.

"Personally, I don't like to pay, but I like what they can buy me and that is saving time," she said. "I believe that we should have them, but only use them after we've done an extensive strategy and implementation to get more vehicles off the road."

Villarreal would also not rule out the use of toll revenue to reduce congestion.

"I oppose tolling existing lanes," he said. "I am willing to consider growing more capacity on our highways by allowing for toll financing options."

After the forum the candidates weighed in on Taylor's call to delay the implementation of new rides-hare laws. The request comes a few weeks after Uber and Lyft threatened to leave San Antonio. Taylor cites the unavailability of "gap insurance" in Texas as one reason to delay the March 1 implementation.

"The timing is good now for us to think about whats the best way forward given the fact that the insurance industry has not come forward with a product," she said. "We've been having quite a few discussions. We've identified some areas where we can be flexible, but we will maintain our commitment to public safety."

Van de Putte applauded the mayor's decision, but said the situation should not have come to this.

"The things that our businesses want in San Antonio is a stable business environment where they understand what the rules of the road are going to be, what the guidelines are. What we've seen here is council has been all over the map," she said.

Adkisson said the mayor's call ignores the approximately 8 months of work the city put in to craft the ordinance.

"They may have an absolutely wonderful service to provide us, and I do believe in competition, but I also believe in process as well and I believe the process is rather convoluted here," he said.

Villarreal, who was an early supporter of Uber and Lyft said the city must rethink the policies and not cower to the will of the local taxi and limo industry.

"It's a shame that San Antonio was seen by the nation as a city willing to protect its taxi industry at the cost of its citizens having access to this new way of getting around. We need to be about embracing technology and innovation," he said. "In this city with too few transportation options ride-share is a new option. In a city where we have a high incidents of driving while intoxicated this is a public safety solution to that also."

Several mayoral candidates who did not participate in the forum issued the following statements:

"One of my main issues is public safety, so my concerns would be the safety of those who use the computer application request. I understand the need for value and that Uber provides that for the user, my concern is the safety of San Antonio riders."

- Gerard Ponce

When it comes to my priorities on our city's transportation we must find a way to make Via more efficient and effective. I applaud Via for their efforts and their service to our city but we are growing by leaps and bounds and we must find new ways and routes that best serve our citizens. Second we must look to the future. We can no longer afford to be a reactive city but must become a proactive city. As I have stated we are growing by leaps and bounds, we are about to become the fifth largest city in the Nation, and I see us only growing from here. We need to look at a secondary mass transit system. Something that will benefit EVERY citizen and not just a select few in a certain area. When we develop new roads or expand our highways we need to look at HOV lanes and enough lanes to where once the road is completed it is not already outdated.

In regards to Uber/Lyft I applaud Mayor Taylor for asking the council to hold off on enforcing the strict standards currently in place on these two companies; as they are not traditional taxis but independent drivers who utilize an app service provided by Uber/Lyft. As I have stated in the past, this should have been dealt when the issue first came up. We as a city cannot limit free enterprise and competition in San Antonio, it sends a bad message to businesses that may look at coming here to set up shop. As in everything there is compromise. In this case we can compromise with Uber/Lyft to ensure public safety while still ensuring that they can offer their services to our citizens at reasonable rates. They bring choices to our citizens when it comes to alternative transportation modes besides the bus or personally owned vehicles and they can only help our city as we continue to grow.

 

- Paul Martinez

I hold a Texas Class A CDL worth over $100, 000 annually driving for UPS over the road.

Texas has some of the HIGHEST TRAFFIC FATALITIES IN THE USA. UBER does nothing to reduce traffic gridlick(sic), lower gas price or reduce highway fatalities on our Overcrowded Very Dangerous Higgways(sic).

Why risk YOUR LIFE to save a few bucks with an inexperienced driver behind the wheel? Via is the BEST MOST ECONOMICAL FORM OF Mass TRANSIT IN BEXAR COUNTY.  

You cant get any cheaper than  $35 FOR AN ENTIRE MONTH OF UNLIMITED TRAVEL. I use Via Extensively. We will Make it the Safest TOO with more clothed and undecover(sic) officers on the buses.  We WILL HAVE DRUG SNIFFING DOGS ON DUTY AS WELL.

- Pogo Reese