The city of New Braunfels formally took the first steps of implementing a public transportation plan with a vote endorsing its goals and vision by the City Council on Nov. 13.

The plan’s recommendations include a hybrid public transit system consisting of both ride-hailing—or microtransit—on-demand shuttle service and fixed bus routes along major road arteries.

“As we get into the first couple years of ridership, we’re going to be continuing to monitor the ridership with the microtransit, and also planning for fixed routes,” said Garry Ford, director of transportation and capital improvements for the city.

Two-minute impact

The foundation for the Transit Development Plan combines microtransit and a fixed-route system for a hybrid solution that will evolve in the coming years.

A microtransit transportation system is a more flexible service in which riders can travel anywhere within a set area. In this instance, microtransit would be set to the city limits. Riders would call, text or use a system app to request rides. Shuttles or minivans would be used for this service.

A fixed-route system has more structure to it and would establish a handful of set routes for buses throughout the city that cover “key areas,” said Ed Elam, vice president and director of transportation for the city’s partner Alliance Transportation Group, as previously reported by Community Impact.

Public transportation is a priority outlined in the city’s comprehensive plan, Ford said.

“Currently, our public transportation is a continuation of rural transit that we contract through Alamo Regional Transit [ART],” Ford said. “We’ve had an interlocal agreement since 2013. It’s the only public transit available to New Braunfels, and the vehicles and drivers are provided through [Alamo Area Council of Governments].”

In 2021, the city published a study in partnership and with funding from the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization; VIA Metropolitan, the city of San Antonio’s transit organization; and others. That study proposed fixed routes with a microtransit option or a full microtransit system. Microtransit is an on-demand service similar to ride-hailing services, Ford said.

Current situation

Moving from the current system to a hybridized model of both ride-hailing and fixed route public transportation varies in cost estimates. Establishing the first phase with microtransit alone is estimated to cost the city between $1.2 million-$3.6 million annually. That’s primarily based on the level of demand that residents ultimately make of the service.

Implementation of the hybrid transit plan is broken down into short-, medium- and long-term phases, with an estimated launch of microtransit in about one year.

Following that, city staff will analyze ridership data to make adjustments to routes as needed, Elam said.

Within the next 12-18 months, the city expects to identify a contractor to run a microtransit pilot program and begin offering service.

Service based on demand

Short-term: first 2 years

• Citywide microtransit zone launches

• Annual cost: $1.2M-$3.6M

Medium-term: 2-5 years

• Two fixed bus corridor routes are added where it is estimated that microtransit rides will grow above 100-200 rides daily.

• Annual cost: $1.1M-$1.9M

Long-term: 5-10 years

• Two more fixed bus routes are added to the system.

• Annual cost: $2.4M-$4M

Sorting out details

In order to receive federal and state funding for the project, the city will seek recognition from the Federal Transit Administration and the state of Texas as an urban transit district. This will help them determine what sort of federal and state funding they will be able to work with over the next decade.

“[Once] the governor recognizes the city of New Braunfels as an urban transit district, then we move to the next step which is working with the Federal Transit Administration to be the direct recipients (of funding),” Ford said.

Ford said the process to obtain those statuses could take six months to a year. By doing so, the city estimates 80% of the funding would be from federal and state transit funding sources, including the roughly $500,000 annually used to fund ART. The city will simultaneously work to secure a contract with a microtransit service provider.

Next steps

Demand and ridership could also open the door to expanded routes and service areas in the long run. Downtown shuttles, as well as regional connections both north and south along I-35 to other metro areas, will be considered, according to the city’s plan.

“We’re going to monitor the ridership with the microtransit, and then also planning for fixed routes, not only locally,” Ford said. “One thing we are also looking at is kind of an interurban express, similar to San Marcos and CARTS [Capital Area Rural Transportation System] between San Marcos and Austin, so depending on our planning and our ridership and kind of the needs of the community, we may kind of go that direction as well.”

Future transit options

Other transportation options could arise if residential demand shows a robust interest and need for the microtransit and fixed bus route systems. Potential additions to the system include:

• Downtown shuttle service

• Interurban connection service to San Antonio, San Marcos and Austin