This city's modern streetcar passes through the kind of neighborhood San Antonio downtown boosters dream about: a mix of shops, new residential units and tech companies that draw thousands of young professionals every day, many hopping on and off the rail line as it slowly ferries them through a once-abandoned industrial district.
But none of this -- not the streetcar, not the neighborhood revitalization -- would have been possible without billions of dollars in private investment from a variety of corporations, including tech giant Amazon.com and, most notably, Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Paul Allen.
More than 3,000 miles away in Florida, Tampa's streetcar travels a very different path, one that caters more to tourists and conventioneers, not professionals.
That streetcar is considered by some to be a novelty for visitors but of little use to commuters, since it doesn't link employment hubs or large residential centers.
The San Antonio Express-News visited the two cities to better understand what the Alamo City might expect from its streetcar, scheduled to open in 2017.
What's evident in both places is that route selection can spell the difference between a streetcar that thrives and one that falters. Their examples also illustrate the challenge of designing a system that serves commuters and tourists and that spurs economic development while making transit more attractive to prospective riders.
VIA Metropolitan Transit officials has yet to pick the north-south and east-west streetcar routes, but will recommend one of four options to board trustees Tuesday.
Whatever plan they endorse, San Antonio wants its streetcar to replicate elements of the Seattle and Tampa systems -- the economic development successes around the Seattle line and the tourist-friendly allure of Tampa's.
Whether San Antonio will accomplish that could depend on a number of factors:
Deep corporate pockets helped build Seattle's streetcar line and the neighborhood around it.
It was billionaire Allen, through his real estate company Vulcan Inc., who jumpstarted transformation of the South Lake Union neighborhood over the past 15 years. He and other property owners paid for nearly half the streetcar's $53.3 million capital costs, with Vulcan alone putting in $8.6 million. In the six years since streetcar service began, ridership has increased by 75 percent, exceeding projections.
In San Antonio, no private investors or companies have pledged any money for the streetcar.
Tampa's vintage streetcar rumbles past the convention center and several entertainment venues before ending up in Ybor City, a historic cigar-manufacturing center that once was home to Spanish, Cuban, German and Italian immigrants, but now turns into an Austin-like Sixth Street at night.
Though the streetcar is geared for tourists, that hasn't saved it from plummeting ridership: the streetcar's hours and frequency of service have been slashed, and use has dropped by more than 34 percent from 2003 to 2012.
In San Antonio, one point of debate has centered on the alternatives for the east-west route. Put it close to the Convention Center and it likely will cater more to tourists; locate it along streets with vacant or underused land and it could boost residential and large-scale commercial development.
The Seattle streetcar has an advantage because the city is oriented toward transit, with many residents using a variety of options -- light rail, buses, ferries and even water taxis. In contrast, Tampa has just buses and most everyone there relies on their vehicles.
To date, San Antonio's transit system is bus-only. VIA officials, in trying to encourage more "choice" riders to use transit, hope the streetcar will be the ticket.
Whatever the purpose for building a streetcar system, "make sure you put the right resources into making that work," said Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Tampa's tourism bureau.