Prímo, San Antonio’s bus rapid transit (BRT) system, will officially launch Dec. 17 amid a transition for the organization; Vía Metropolitan Transit CEO Keith Parker stepped down to take the lead position in Atlanta’s public transportation system.
Vía spokesperson Priscilla Ingle said that with ridership at an all-time high, the standard 40 foot bus wasn’t working anymore, especially for the downtown-to-Medical Center corridor.
"The Fredericksburg Road corridor is our heaviest traveled transit corridor,” Ingle said. “We've got about 12,000 trips that are on that corridor every day and it's because it links the downtown area to the Medical Center."
Also launching soon is what Vía is calling MedLink, a circulator system that will get people around the Medical Center once they arrive on Prímo.
“Individuals traveling to the Medical Center on BRT can then transfer onto the circulator service to get directly to their hospital if it is not touched by the BRT service,” Ingle said.
The service will also cater to students and faculty who need to get to the UTSA northwest campus. Ingle said every third bus will travel to UTSA.
Vía is training operators on the ins-and-outs of driving a vehicle that is 20 feet longer than the standard Vía bus. The most distinguishable feature is its accordion-like middle that allows the bus to attach an additional area for more riders.
For drivers, 20 additional feet of bus can be a big change, but six-year veteran operator John Avila said he and his colleagues are trained to have patience. He does, however, have some advice for other drivers who will be sharing the road.
“Be more aware,” Avila said. “I mean, that goes with every bus, even the 40 footers. The key thing is just be aware of your surroundings for everybody."
In all, 16 new extended-length buses will travel the Fredericksburg Road corridor, with three additional buses planned for next year to serve the Leon Valley area. Prímo features traffic signal priority to help keep the buses on schedule, but Ingle promises that drivers will see little impact on their commute due to operators having the option to keep the light green to allow a bus through.
"As the vehicle is approaching the intersection - if it's running behind schedule, or needs to stay on schedule - they'll be able to impact the lights at that intersection so they can continue to go,” Ingle said.
Vía’s top brass says all systems are go for Prímo and say that the transit system is on track for other projects as well, including talks of instituting a modern streetcar system. A public meeting is scheduled for next week to share information and gather the public’s input on the streetcar proposal that has become a point of debate.