(Seguin) -- The Seguin City Council is again making a commitment to providing a safe, reliable and affordable form of public transportation. The council again approved an agreement that will allow the city to partner up with the Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) to provide the Connect Seguin bus service.
Assistant City Manager Rick Cortes says for several years now the bus service has continued to see its demand grow.
"This is the fifth year of a council, citizen initiated program. Five years ago, we had a request from some citizens and through council to initiate this program and start working with AACOG out of San Antonio and we have a program that has been very successful," said Cortes.
The city and AACOG share the funding for the service. Cortes says there will be a slight increase for providing the service next year. The bus connects riders to several key parts of the city, like the Seguin Public Library, Texas Lutheran University, Guadalupe Regional Medical Center, and several shopping locations throughout town.
"The agreement is automatic and FY 2017-2018 was the last fiscal year -- the actual cost was $108,000. That was our cost to participate in this program. This year, it's going to $112,000 and it's a slight increase. The system has 15 stops throughout the city. It has about a one hour loop that we try to maintain. The three most utilized stops are at the HEB -- I think 23 percent of the stops are at the HEB -- the Walmart has about 19.1 percent of the stops and Jefferson Tower has 17.3 percent of the stops," said Cortes.
Sean Scott, director of AACOG's Alamo Regional Transit (ART), told the council that they have been tweaking the route over the years in an effort to increase ridership. He says the changes have worked, and the numbers continue to go up.
"We've changed the route, this Connect Seguin route which everybody knows and we had a good upswing on the ridership. This, we expected it to continue but I did not expect a 13 percent increase in ridership. That's not a norm so we did really well. We are very happy with that and the cost associated this year is less than 3 percent. It's basically a fuel charge. That's what has happened. Ya'll (saw) the cost of fuel (go) up and we got eaten up with that but that's the whole deal there," said Scott.
Scott says they are very pleased with the overall growth in ridership, but she says they are looking at doing even more to find ways to encourage more people to take advantage of the Connect Seguin bus service.
"In the spring, I want to have a public involvement meeting -- get a little feedback from the community about what they like about our route, what they don't like -- amenities they would like to see. The second thing that I'd like to mention is that I have secured funding and so there will be a brand new bus on the Connect Seguin route that is customized for the route so it will be a low floor bus. For people not familiar with transit, that means it's a lot easier to get in, much more accessible. You don't have to walk up steps. Everything is just a level platform. People do enjoy that," said Scott.
The council unanimously approved the agreement, even though it's set to automatically renew. Councilman Jeremy Roy says he understands the importance of the program. He says the TLU campus has embraced the service, and even uses it as a teaching moment for some of its students.
"You want might to involve in future discussions, Dr. Whitney Bischoff. She's a professor at TLU in the nursing school. She teaches public health, community help and I think those 20 students are her students. So every year, that class takes a bus and they go to every stop and she impresses upon them the impact that public transportation makes on public health -- people that are able to get to Walmart and get their prescriptions, they are able to get to the hospital (and) get to their doctor's offices," said Roy.
Scott says the current numbers speak for themselves. The total ridership was 16,500, which was a 13 percent increase over the previous year. Scott says they expected the number of riders to increase, but the 13 percent increase came as a bit of a surprise. He says they want to continue to make the service better, so that they can help to improve the quality of life for those who need it and want it.