Artem Skitenko lives near Lackland and begins his journey to Texas A&M University-San Antonio at 6:35 a.m. Skitenko, a computer science major, says it’s his only option to get to class.
Skitenko rides the 520 bus, the only bus line to A&M-San Antonio every day of the work week for both arrival and departure.
“To get here it takes one hour and thirty minutes. On average,” Skitenko said of the 520 line, also known as the Zarzamora Frequent.
VIA services came up during a Sept. 14 City Council meeting where the largest budget in San Antonio’s history was unanimously approved. The $2.7 billion budget for 2018 – a five percent increase from that of the previous year – features an equity lens as one of its focal points, promising to allocate resources to areas in greater need and attention.
District 3 City Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, whose district includes A&M-San Antonio, laid out her plans for the budget at the Council meeting, citing public safety, code enforcement, drainage, homelessness, park police, LiftFund and air quality as areas of focus for the district.
Regarding the VIA bus service, Viagran’s stance on the matter echoed the issue that Skitenko and other A&M-San Antonio students face at the moment.
“The city of San Antonio deserves public transportation that doesn’t require a 90-minute commute to get to work, the grocery store or church,” Viagran said.
The 2018 City budget calls for an allocation of $4.3 million to VIA, and $10 million the following year, partially contributing to increased frequency in bus routes.
In a Sept. 23 interview with Viagran at Coffee & Conversation with the Councilwoman, she expanded on her stance given at the City Council meeting, noting the importance of A&M-San Antonio having a connection to the city on a larger scale through VIA services.
“I really do want to see what we need to do. What my office needs to do is make sure that we hear from the students at Texas A&M-San Antonio to address the concerns of frequency of service of when and where,” Viagran said. “Because that’s very important. We would love to have more of a connection from Texas A&M-San Antonio to downtown San Antonio.”
District 4 City Councilman Rey Saldaña, who used VIA services himself to get a citizen’s perspective on the matter, made a point during the meeting to mention a possible expansion of the VIA bus routes, noting that 120,000 citizens of San Antonio use the service on a daily basis.
“VIA is not a value, but a necessity,” Saldaña said.
While the 520 line does make stops at Palo Alto College on weekends, the same cannot be said for A&M-San Antonio.
“When we had the Fall Festival last year it was held on a weekend. I checked the schedule and it shows that 520 doesn’t go here on the weekends,” Skitenko said.
With the addition of the university’s first residence hall, students noted the importance of those living in Esperanza Hall having access to VIA services.
While Business administration junior Kenny Martin does not live on campus, he believes that the 520 bus line expanding services to the weekend is a necessity for students who – similar to Skitenko – have no other means of transportation.
“I would highly recommend that she (Viagran) really look into that and maybe extending it to the weekend so that kids would be able to go wherever they need to go instead of having to spend so much on Ubers and Lyfts,” Martin said.
Franco Guadarrama, a VIA bus operator, anticipates that the bus service will soon offer weekend services to A&M-San Antonio. Guadarrama could not confirm when, but spoke about the future change, hopefully easing concerns for Skitenko and other students who rely on the 520 bus line to make the trip to campus on the weekend.
“We are getting more routes, so it’s probably going to change. Most likely, it’s going to change,” Guadarrama said.
The 520 bus line is the only one of its kind currently available to A&M-San Antonio students, with routes leaving campus as early as 5:30 a.m., and as late as 10:10 p.m. The line stops in front of the Madla Building 34 times throughout the day at an average of 30-minute intervals.
English senior major Stephanie Vasquez, who works as a student worker in the university’s marketing department, helped coordinate Car Free Day on Friday, Sept. 22. Students were given the chance to participate in a raffle. The grand prize: a semester bus pass for Fall 2017 that would otherwise cost $38.
“Free semester pass? Let me do that. And then we’re like, ‘It’s not just for school. You can use it to go downtown, to the Pearl, anywhere you want in San Antonio,’ and they’re all the more enthusiastic about it,” Vasquez said.
Manuel Rodriguez, an admissions counselor at A&M-San Antonio, spoke with The Mesquite about his experiences riding the 520 bus line from the starting point of the Crossroads Park & Ride, and offered a different solution to the longevity of bus trips to campus.
“What I do find that takes the longest is when you go from the Madla Transit Center over to Palo Alto College,” Rodriguez said.I feel like whenever you make that detour over there, that adds more time, which makes it feel much longer,”
“So, ideally, I think it would be nice if there was just a stop from the Madla Center to Texas A&M-San Antonio without going to Palo Alto.”
Viagran suggested this news outlet organize a coffee session on campus that would further address any concerns or suggestions for improvements to the VIA bus services for A&M-San Antonio, along with other topics pertaining to campus life and District 3 altogether.
Viagran may be reached at the Constituent Office at (210) 207-7064, as well as her City Hall office number at (210) 207-0969.