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Park & Ride to debut

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This summer marks the long-awaited debut of VIA Metropolitan Transit’s Stone Oak Park & Ride, but some say the multimillion-dollar facility won’t change the community’s reliance on private autos.

VIA officials said the 184,000-square-foot structure, located at the southwest corner of U.S. 281 and Stone Oak Parkway, provides a new transportation option for people living and working on the affluent far North Side, where traffic congestion is common.

However, others remain skeptical, saying VIA hasn’t made inroads in altering the way some community members view mass transit.

“I don’t see this area (far North Side) utilizing the bus system,” Andrea Duke said. “I hate to say it. I may use it for major events, but even for the (NCAA) Final Four, I purchased parking tickets downtown.”

District 9 Councilman John Courage, who toured the complex April 6 and made approving remarks, said feedback indicates many constituents aren’t hopping aboard — at least for now — because they see the service as comparatively inconvenient.

Acknowledging it can take years for commuters to form new habits, VIA President/CEO Jeff Arndt feels residents will eventually warm up to the system with the introduction of rapid-transit corridors and improved repetition.

“If you offer high-frequency, fairly rapid trips, you’ll find people not interested in sitting so long in traffic,” he added.

The result of a $28.3 million project, the site includes a four-story, 400-space parking garage, first-floor lobby and waiting area, access to free 4G Wi-Fi and a full-service information center.

The ongoing work by the Texas Department of Transportation to enlarge 281 from Loop 1604 to Stone Oak Parkway will include a direct connection ramp, from a planned high-occupancy vehicle lane, between the busy intersection and the facility.

VIA originally anticipated the building being a single-floor structure with surface parking, but with the expansion of 281, the agency opted to upsize.

“We’re excited to finally open it,” Arndt said. “We didn’t build for just 2018. It will serve from 25 to 40 years out.”

The package includes the new Stone Oak Express route providing a straight shot to and from downtown. The service offers departures and arrivals every 30 minutes.

It’s one of two new paths VIA launched earlier in 2018 along with the 503 line, which uses Huebner Road to link Stone Oak with the South Texas Medical Center.

Community leaders and VIA officials joined Courage in previewing the nascent park and ride in April.

The councilman described the endeavor as a starting point for a larger, long-term mass-transit system he hopes will include more routes, buses and increased recurrences.

“I think of the movie ‘Field of Dreams’ — if you build it, they will come,” Courage said. “If VIA builds the kind of structure people may need, people will use it. I hope hundreds of thousands will take advantage of this.”

Courage said perhaps residents eventually would see the bus as an affordable, hassle-free alternative to traveling clogged lanes, a familiar scene along 281 and Stone Oak arteries.

He added: “I don’t think people want to stay in their cars one minute longer than they have to do … with San Antonio expected to grow by a million people by 2040, there’s going to be greater travel difficulties if people don’t get out of their cars.”

Meg Lorente, property manager for the Stone Oak Property Owners Association, also attended the April tour. She believes the embryonic facility and bus routes will benefit residents.

“VIA is planning for San Antonio’s future growth, ensuring service is available and convenient for everyone, and we welcome the Stone Oak Park & Ride as part of that plan,” she added.

Others are less positive.

Drue Placette tested the new Stone Oak Express route, to go downtown from the temporary departure point near Walmart.

He missed his intended first bus and discovered the next one wouldn’t arrive for more than two hours. He said a negative community mindset, and lack of innovation and resources on VIA’s part, will deter riders.

“It’s not going to change public perception,” Placette said. “You may get a few people to use the Park & Ride, but public transportation is perceived as a poor people’s thing. It’s not about affordability or convenience, it’s about mentality.”

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