Opponents of Vía's modern streetcar plan say it is wasteful and illegal, and that commitments to subsidies will be a financial headache to San Antonians for decades to come.
The streetcar plan is for two lines, one that runs North-East on Broadway cutting through Hemisfair downtown, and another East-South from Vía's West Side transit hub, across Nueva St. and down Alamo St.
Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a think tank focused on individual liberty and limited government, is in San Antonio with a policy brief he titled, “The Streetcar Fantasy.”
In it, O’Toole cites examples of his native Portland, Ore., where a light rail system destroyed public transportation, helped increase crime, and did nothing to increase economic development.
“It's all about spending a lot of money and none of it really promotes mobility and transportation,” he said as he stood near Broadway, where the proposed line would run. “It just promotes money in somebody's pocket."
O'Toole said economic growth is one of the biggest reasons elected officials want to build a modern street car. However, he said claims of billions of dollars generated by a streetcar are misleading because, he writes, “streetcars move only about 2,000 people per hour, with most passengers standing. By comparison, standard, 40-foot buses can move well over 6,000 people per hour through city streets, all of them comfortably seated.”
O’Toole says buses beat streetcars because they are more practical, are easier to maintain, are better for the environment, and are safer for cyclists and motorists to operate around.
Opponents of street car in San Antonio say it is a status symbol. Businessman Red McCombs, who attended a lunch at the Argyle Club where O’Toole presented his findings, said he can’t understand the need some elected officials see for the project.
O’Toole said that with development happening along Broadway and other projects to help revitalize the center city, San Antonio is already on a path to becoming a “world-class” city.
He joked that San Antonio might regret the decision after other "world-class chumps," effectively destroyed the mobility of their people by substituting high-cost rail for low-cost and more flexible buses.
Yesterday Vía held a public meeting to get more input on the idea.