Even Stone Oak commuters taking the bus to lower transportation costs

Link to article here.

Now if this doesn’t wake-up the politicians and the pro-toll crowd, they’re simply paid to be blind to the economic realities our families face. The median income in the zip code where this Via Express Bus route begins is $90,000 a year. If “those people” who make so much money are clamoring for ways to reduce their gas bill, what makes the tollers think “those people” have the discretionary income to pay tolls on top of their already too expensive commutes? They don’t.

When you consider the expensive homes and the property tax and energy bills on those homes, the car payments, and higher grocery bills for growing families in Stone Oak, that $90,000 may sound like a lot but it doesn’t go as far as it did when “those people” moved to Stone Oak. No matter what income level, the taxpayers don’t have endless amounts of money to spend on transportation, though politicians enact tax policy as though they’re a well that never runs dry.

Ken Rodriguez: Stone Oak residents are filling up buses
It’s 7:45 a.m. Tuesday, and Connie Casanova is waiting for a ride to work.

She has lots of company.

In the far northern reaches of San Antonio, a crowd is growing around a bench at the lone bus stop in Stone Oak.

Men with briefcases, women in professional attire — all are headed downtown on VIA Express Route No. 6.“These are my friends,” Casanova says from a Wal-Mart parking lot at Loop 1604 and U.S. 281, filled with trucks, SUVs and minivans. “More and more people are riding. It’s amazing.”

Casanova and many of her friends live in ZIP code 78258, where the median household income exceeds $90,000.

The Stone Oak community ranks among the city’s most affluent, but residents are still trying to combat rising fuel costs.

That’s one reason the No. 6 Express set a record last month with 12,515 riders.

From April ’07 to April ’08, VIA Metropolitan Transit ridership rose 15.6 percent across the city. In Stone Oak, ridership jumped 23 percent.

Casanova is no newcomer. She started taking the No. 6 Express more than two years ago. At the time, the route was carrying 5,513 passengers a month, and Casanova could buy a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline for about $2.10.

Around the corner from her home today, a gallon of regular has soared to $3.69.

Casanova says it costs $55 to fill her Acura Legend with gas. A monthly bus pass costs $25 — but Casanova gets it for $15 through a discount at work.

“I save at least $250 a month in gas and parking,” she says, “plus all the wear and tear on my car.”

There are other benefits. Casanova enjoys a stress-free commute to the office. She can read the newspaper. She can chat with friends.

“I’m a true believer,” she says. “You wouldn’t know how beneficial it is unless you ride it.”

Casanova, 55, works in external affairs for AT&T Inc. The way she raves about the No. 6 Express, you’d think she worked in public affairs for VIA.

She says she feels sorry for people who ride to work alone, wasting time and gas.

Then she says, “You should take a ride. Really, you should.”

I rode the No. 6 Express for a column in May 2006. I described the commute as cool, clean and convenient. The bus dropped me off two blocks from the Express-News.

There’s much to like about the public transportation. My only problem with the VIA system is mobility after I get to the office.

How am I supposed to get to a breaking story across town?

Or how am I going to meet a source who only wants to share critical information at some out-of-the-way location?

Other riders shared similar problems. Some said they only take the bus on days they have no appointments outside the office.

Connie Casanova doesn’t have that issue. But she has a backup plan in case of an emergency: Taxi vouchers. Casanova bought four of them for $5 through a VIA Care Program.

She used one the other day to help a fellow passenger get to his wife after he passed out.

Like other buses, the No. 6 Express gives riders options. The first one pulls out of Wal-Mart at 5:39 a.m.

I showed up at 5:45 a.m. Tuesday and found a number of riders waiting for the next bus beneath a full moon.

Two hours later, Casanova was extolling the virtues of VIA when the No. 6 Express arrived.

By the time she finished, it was almost standing room only.