Nov. 14—New Braunfels plans to launch a microtransit service in the next year, with rides available on demand, as the first step in the city creating its own public transportation system.
Bus routes are still at least a few years away, but the New Braunfels City Council voted Monday night to approve a transit development plan, the result of months of discussion over New Braunfels' options for transportation.
Microtransit is an industry term for a public service that includes options like taxis, Ubers or the existing Alamo Rapid Transit program.
New Braunfels' plan calls for starting that type of service citywide in about a year. The service would operate in a defined service zone, including most of the city and some parts of unincorporated Comal and Guadalupe counties. It likely will use vans or minivans, city officials say.
In two to five years, the city will look to begin operating one or two buses with fixed routes, while maintaining the microtransit service. With that approach, the fixed bus routes would provide "a backbone for higher capacity travel corridors," while microtransit would serve areas with lower demand and more remote neighborhoods and provide connections to the fixed routes, according to the transit development plan.
The city then would aim to add more bus routes, with a total of three to four routes in place five or more years from now.
The first step of the transit project is expected to cost $1.2 million to $3.6 million, depending on demand, with cost increasing as ridership increases, according to the plan. "Full buildout" of both microtransit and four bus routes is expected to cost at least $3.6 million, potentially up to $7.6 million.
The city hasn't said what fares could be for users of its new transit services. Fare revenue typically makes up about 10% of revenue for transit systems, according to the city's plan.
The only public transportation option currently available in New Braunfels is Alamo Rapid Transit, or ART, which operates in 12 counties around the San Antonio area, and is run by the Alamo Area Council of Governments, a regional umbrella organization of local governments.
ART provides on-demand transportation service, and trips must be requested at least 24 hours in advance. A six-month study of ART trips starting or ending in New Braunfels found an average of 1,790 trips provided per month, with the highest ridership around 3 to 4 p.m. The most frequent trip purposes were for school and medical care.
The city currently pays about $500,000 for that service, which is matched by federal funding and a $70,000 contribution from Comal County. ART fares start at $2 for in-town trips and increase to maximum $12 for out-of-county destinations.
New Braunfels is now eligible to access more federal funding for transit, after the 2020 census resulted in a new designation as a small urban area, separate from the greater San Antonio area. New Braunfels, which has about 105,000 residents, now can receive Federal Transit Administration funding directly, instead of receiving it through AACOG.
The amount of money is still to be determined, but Garry Ford, the city's transportation and capital improvements director, said previously it could be upward of $3 million.
As a direct recipient, the city will have more control over how the money is spent. Once the City Council formally creates an urban area transit district, New Braunfels also will be eligible for additional state transportation funding. Ford told the council that could amount to about $300,000 in additional money for the city's programs.
Over the next year, the city will determine an operating budget for the microtransit program, as well as issue a request for proposals to find a contractor to operate it.
Consultants hired by the city to develop the plan estimated weekly demand ranging from 1,200 to 2,800 rides, with an estimated 1,950 weekly uses within six to 12 months of launch, based on similar services elsewhere. Their estimates project at least 63,000 annual rides even in the "low demand" scenario, which is triple the number of rides currently provided by ART in New Braunfels, about 21,000. Those estimates are based on a proposed service running from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends.
Other possibilities suggested in the plan for future consideration include a downtown shuttle, depending on demand in the area, and intercity bus services, potentially to a VIA transfer station in Northeast San Antonio or to other cities including Seguin or San Marcos.
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