To relieve the pain drivers have been feeling at the gas pumps because of shortages, VIA offered free rides on Tuesday to entice people out of their cars.
As Compressed Natural Gas-powered VIA buses rolled past long lines at gas pumps, VIA officials said that lots of people were making plans to get on the bus as a way of dealing with uncertain fuel supplies.
"Over the weekend, we saw the number of people downloading our app and the number of people using the trip-planning piece of that app double compared to the previous weekend," VIA CEO Jeffrey Arndt said.
Arndt added that he had no hard numbers for how many people took advantage of the free service, but he said that as he moved about the city, he heard many people talk about making plans.
“Numerous people have said ‘I found out to take the bus I need to do A to B to C,’ so clearly there were people that were at least looking at the option of public transportation," Arndt said.
Regular VIA rider El McIntosh said that he takes the bus because he can’t afford a car, but he believes public transportation is a solid idea.
“It would save gas, you can meet people, it’s a lot cheaper and, many times, it is a lot faster,” McIntosh said.
Arndt said that VIA has made many advances recently that make taking a bus easier than ever.
“Our app will show you alternative ways to make that transit trip, some that require transfers, some that may require a longer walk, so you have a lot of options there," Arndt explained. “Our app even lets you segue over to B-Cycle, for example, if you want to take a look at that as an option or a partial option. So we've tried to make everything as easy as possible.”
Another helpful feature is a free service that provides real time updates on when the next bus will arrive at any stop by simply texting 52020.
"If you're at a bus stop, you can text that bus stop number and find out when your next bus arrives," Arndt noted.
Arndt also said that city council is considering additional funding in the next two budget cycles to help improve the frequency of service so that bus trips will be shorter.
"Primo Service along Fredericksburg Road is another time saver," Arndt said.
With buses arriving every 10 minutes during times of heavy use on week days, Primo Service runs between the Medical Center area and the downtown center called Centro Plaza on Medina Street.
Another time saver coming this fall is a "tap and go" smart card system that will allow riders to pre-pay for the service and then quickly swipe a card to board any bus. Arndt said that VIA is always looking for ways to shave valuable seconds from commute times.
“We are trying to design the system to reduce the need to have cash, and so on the phone app you can buy your fare media so you don't have to fumble for cash,” Arndt said.
Arndt said that even if you missed the fare-free day on Tuesday, VIA is a bargain any day.
"It's like $1.30 for a one-way trip, 15 cents for a transfer, day pass for $2.75. You can ride all day long in the system," Arndt said.
Arndt added that at $38, the VIA monthly pass is one of the lowest priced monthly passes in the country.