New VIA transit plans for future could mean sales tax increase

Bills would allow voters to approve sales tax increase for funding

SAN ANTONIO – Shorter waits, faster transit and new technology are all at the heart of VIA Metropolitan Transit's vision of the future but they could need a tax increase to come fruition.

VIA President and CEO Jeffrey Arndt laid out the "VIA Reimagined" plan at the State of Transit event in Brooks City-Base on Friday.

Arndt included major items like increased frequency at bus stops, the arrival of Advanced Rapid Transit -- a type of bus running in dedicated lanes -- and the use of technology.

"My vision is that we would have a universal transportation app. So, you could go on it and book Uber. You could pay for your transit fare. You could have a monthly pass that could be used with bike-share and transit," Arndt said.

But the fare to the future won't be free, and Arndt said the going rate isn't going to be enough.

"What you see is what you get," Arndt said. "A.R.T, advancing more frequent service throughout the region, investing in new technology are not possible with our current funding."

VIA is backing two bills going through the Texas legislature that could allow up to a 0.5 percent sales tax increase locally for transportation funding.

The bills would not automatically increase taxes. Instead, they’d give voters the power to raise them.

"The only way that it can come to a public vote is through a public petition drive," Arndt said of the identical bills in the House and Senate.

"So, it's not as though our board or the city council could just call for a vote. It will require the citizens to petition for that vote. Once that level is reached, then there would be a public vote. So, it really takes two levels of public involvement there to get it to pass."

Should the bills pass and voters subsequently approve the money, though, Arndt estimated it would bring in an additional $135 million to $150 million each year.

"With that funding, we believe we could build the full A.R.T. network -- all six corridors. We could do the better bus system. So, we could get it the 20-minute frequency. We believe that would be the funding that would take us to that level," Arndt said.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff believes voters might support a tax increase if they see an upside to it.

"If you have a good plan and you tell them exactly what you're going to do with it, voters will consider it," Wolff said.

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