While officials say the cost-effectiveness of the Bobcat Tram Interurban services was the driving factor that led to its cancelation, there are two other tram routes that have a lower ridership and are more expensive to operate.
A review of the transit services provided by the university led to the elimination of Bobcat Tram Interurban services, effective Aug. 26. The interurban trams service both the Kyle/Austin and New Braunfels/San Antonio areas.
Interurban passengers account for about four percent of all Bobcat Tram riders. However, the interurban operating costs are 20 percent of the total annual expense to operate all Bobcat Tram services, according to the study’s findings. Bill Nance, vice president for Finance and Support Services, said having the student body support the interurban services through their student services fees could no longer be justified.
“We already need more buses in San Marcos, and we don’t feel we’re adequately meeting the needs of those who need those bus services,” Nance said. “So, how can you justify (keeping the interurban services)?”
Nancy Nusbaum, interim director for transportation services, said the Texas A&M Transportation Institute calculated the amount of hours, miles and peak vehicles used by each bus route offered at Texas State. The number of passenger boardings per route was also calculated. The institute’s report is still considered a draft for final review, Nusbaum said.
According to the report, Bobcat Tram Interurban routes account for 4.1 percent of total passenger boardings but cost $8.14 per rider. Night and Saturday routes are even less cost-effective. Night routes account for .8 percent of passenger boardings and cost $4.57 per rider. Saturday routes are the least cost-effective, making up just .1 percent of total passenger boardings and costing $24.69 per rider.
Nusbaum said eliminating the Saturday and night services would have saved money but would not have freed up buses.
“That was the whole point, to improve the local service, and to do that we need buses,” Nusbaum said.
Residential routes account for 76 percent of all Bobcat Tram passenger boardings, with the cost per rider totaling $1.26. Campus routes are the second most utilized, making up 16.6 percent of passenger boardings and costing $1.57 per rider. Combination routes are 2.1 percent of all passenger boardings and cost $1.52 per rider.
Nusbaum said the priority is to improve the local bus system for the Texas State community. The buses used for the Bobcat Tram Interurban services need to be reassigned throughout the other routes in San Marcos.
Nusbaum said it is not the university’s responsibility to provide transit to the general public, which is another reason why the interurban services were eliminated. The only way the university could afford the additional interurban buses it needed in 2005 was through a grant from the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. The stipulation for the grant money was that the university could not offer the interurban services exclusively to Texas State students, faculty and staff. Therefore the interurban services are open to anyone who wants to use them.
The decision to eliminate the interurban services was not easy, Nusbaum said.
“I know that students are concerned about how they’re going to continue their education, but we’re trying to find other solutions for that,” Nusbaum said.
Christina Rodriguez, a political science graduate student who rides the San Antonio interurban buses to campus, said she will be able to continue her education once the services end next fall. However, some of her friends may not be able to.
“I have friends who live further into San Antonio than I do. So, the drive (to campus) is much worse for them,” Rodriguez said. “They have to think about if it’s worth it for them to continue their degree (at Texas State) because driving will be so much more expensive (because of gas). It’s not as cost or time efficient.”
Rodriguez said administrators should have looked at shortening the distance the interurban buses traveled if cost-effectiveness was an issue with the service. Rodriguez said she would rather drive from San Antonio to a bus stop in New Braunfels and then take a bus to campus rather than driving the whole way. She said alternative options should have been explored before cutting the service altogether.