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Transportation and UTSA’s Environmental Impact, Part 1

November 5, 2012

Since the opening of the UTSA’s main campus, transportation issues have in many ways defined campus life at UTSA and helped to shape the larger urban development of San Antonio’s northwest side. The architects that designed and planned UTSA’s main campus anticipated that the university would be largely a commuter campus with a majority of the university’s student population traveling from other parts of San Antonio, at least until adequate student housing could be provided in and around the university.

When the university opened to students in 1975, there were already 2900 parking spaces built for the estimated 5,500 students that would be commuting to the new university.  University administrators had already prepared for the congestion and transportation difficulties presented by the new campus, performing a transportation survey of UTSA students in the Fall 1974, which showed that the overwhelming majority of students would be commuting to campus from central, west, and south sides of San Antonio. The survey showed that only 1.1% of UTSA’s student population lived in or around the 78249 zip code where the main campus was located.

UTSA bus service, circa 1970s, Box 99, UA 04.01 UTSA. Office of the President Records.

Initially, UTSA administrators thought that a balanced strategy would be the only way to confront the transportation challenges that faced the university.  There was hope among administrators that UTSA would be able to provide a diversity of transportation options that would enable commuters to reach main campus.   In a 1974 memorandum to UTSA President Peter Flawn, “UTSA’s Transportation Requirements,”the university’s Director of Management Systems, A.W. Hunt, indicated that he “would like to see a lot of thought and planning put into a concert of transportation means including rail systems, buses, automobiles, and pedestrians.” Hunt listed eight recommendations to alleviate UTSA’s parking congestion:

  1. “To derive a car pooling arrangement with a parking rate adjustment. AACOG [Alamo Area Council of Governments] has pledged to support UTSA car pooling planning.
  2. To negotiate with the Transit Authority to derive a more favorable rate structure.
  3. To engage in preliminary discussions with Transportation Enterprises for contract busing.
  4. To talk with private investors to ascertain plans for off-campus parking facilities and problems associated with such facilities.
  5. To consider the purchase and operation of shuttle buses and include transportation in the student fee structure.
  6. To explore Federal subsistence in the support of a UTSA operated transportation system and/or reducing bus company fares.
  7. To consider a consultant or full-time employee to pursue these recommendations and transportation planning.
  8. UTSA needs to make several policy decisions which will impact transportation planning: a. Schedule of classes (e.g. Saturday classes?), b. Fee schedules (e.g. inclusive of parking? Transportation? Etc.)”

The crux of solving congestion around campus was whether the university could provide convenient and affordable bus service to the new campus. As early as 1973, administrators at the University of Texas System were facing pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency to actively encourage the development of public transportation options at UT branch campuses in San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston and to reduce the amount of employee and student vehicle miles in order to comply with the Clean Air Act of 1970. The EPA required the University of Texas System to submit “an adequate transit incentive program designed to encourage the use of mass transit and discourage the use of single-passenger employee automobiles.”

UTSA transportation estimates, 1975, Box 99, UA 04.01 UTSA. Office of the President Records.

The San Antonio Transit System began providing bus service to the main UTSA campus on September 2, 1975, though there were multiple obstacles facing its widespread use among students, faculty and staff. From the outset only a tiny percentage of UTSA students, faculty, or staff used the bus service to get to the main campus.  In first month of service, there were 14 buses delivering and average of 155 students a day to main campus—a miniscule 1.6% of the total UTSA student body. This percentage decreased in the coming months and low ridership in turn led to few buses. Within six months, the number of buses arriving daily at UTSA fell from 14 to 8 delivering only 110 students a day, which was only 1.1% of the total student body representing a 30% decrease in ridership. Surveys of UTSA students revealed that many students found the $1.25 round trip fare too expensive and the schedules of the four bus routes inconvenient.

Bus survey of UTSA students, 1974, Box 99, UTSA. Office of the President Records.

As UTSA’s student population continued to grow in the 1970s, vehicular congestion around campus worsened.  UTSA administrators were increasingly confronted with an intractable cycle—not enough students were utilizing public transportation to keep costs low and maintain a regular schedule of service, and high prices and inconvenient service encouraged students to continue to use their personal vehicles to get to campus.

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