The city of Castle Hills is considering removing VIA and VIA Trans service from it’s city boundaries.
If the Castle Hills City Council approves it, the citizens of the small San Antonio suburb will be able to vote on whether or not to remove VIA from the city. Acting Castle Hills Mayor Timothy Howell, who was placed into the position last week, said he’s not taking a side on the issue yet.
“I think it’s very important that we allow the citizens to decide what they want to do moving forward,” Howell said.
Cities using VIA collect a .5 cent sales tax to pay for the service. Should Castle Hills decide to remove VIA it would free-up the tax.
“There is situations where we could take that money and apply it to a couple of areas that are accepted by the state of Texas,” Howell said.
Howell said those areas could include transit and infrastructure.
“From what I see right now there are no set out plans yet of what we would do specifically for this money," Howell said. "We are aware of the amount and we are of projects that it could be used for but I’m not at liberty to say because we don’t have the money yet. I don’t want to put the cart before the horse.”
VIA said it loses money providing service to Castle Hills. It spent around $1 million providing transit in the city from October 2012 through September 2013. In that same time period, VIA earned about $540,000 in sales taxes and fares. During that year, 289,000 passengers used VIA in Castle Hills and there were also 2,400 VIA Trans trips which are pre-arranged for riders with mobility impairments.
VIA Chief of Public Engagement Charlie Gonzalez said the despite the deficit, which happens in several small cities, the agency still wants to provide service.
“We will make a very strong case on why we think we provide a valuable service that’s not even covered by the taxes that are collected by an incorporated city such as Castle Hills, but we’re happy to do that," Gonzalez said. "That is our mission, that is our goal and we will serve those customers."
If the services are discontinued it would remove seven bus lines that either have stops or run though the city.
“There’s enough people out there who want to put this on the ballot that we go ahead and work towards doing that," Howell said. "It’s something that needs to be looked into; information studied and react accordingly.”
Castle Hills residents who want to weigh in their opinion on Tuesday night. VIA and the city of Castle Hills will hold a town hall meeting for public feedback at 6:30 at Castle Hills City Hall.