The residents of Kyle and San Marcos are one step closer to a public transportation system after both city councils voted Feb. 21 to work with Texas State University to expand the university's bus services to include the general public.
The tri-party agreement opens the door for talks between the two cities and the university. A formal plan to develop an urban transit district will be negotiated once the meetings begin, and city officials plan to create the transit district by September.
"It [the transit district] will benefit us in a lot of ways. The main thing is that it will provide transit services for our people to connect with South Austin and San Antonio," said Jerry Hendrix, director of communications for the City of Kyle.
An urban transit district is an entity created to establish a transit service area. The decision to create a public transit system is due in part to Kyle and San Marcos being categorized as "small urbanized areas" by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The new categorization will make the cities eligible to apply for direct Federal Transit Administration funding to assist with the creation and operation costs associated with providing public transit services.
Consolidating Texas State's large number of student commuters and the growing populations of Kyle and San Marcos will potentially help the district receive additional federal funding.
At this stage in the planning, officials have not determined the number of bus routes, frequency of runs or how many people will have access to the system. City officials said they plan to provide services that will meet the needs of most residents.
"We will make the system as convenient as possible," Hendrix said.
Laurie Moyer, San Marcos assistant city manager, said the goal is to have Capital Area Rural Transportation System, or CARTS, remain a partner to allow commuters to move through the CARTS coverage area and the new urbanized routes seamlessly.
The cost of implementing the system will become more clear after the transit district is created later in the year and the negotiations among the three parties are complete. Moyer said an increase in funds may be required by the participating cities, depending how comprehensive they want the service area to be.
Melissa Millecam, director of Communications and Intergovernmental Relations for the City of San Marcos, said she is excited to have Kyle, the university and the major partners involved in the process.
"We think down road it will be a big benefit to the whole area," she said.
William A. Nance, vice president for Finance and Support Services at Texas State, said the university spends $5 million a year on transportation, all of it paid for through the students' bus fee.
He said Texas State signed the agreement because it gave the university an opportunity to evaluate how the school's bus service can be improved.
"Could we possibly have the same level of service and reduce the fee students pay? Or if the desire was to continue paying the same level of fees, could we enhance the service for students?" he said.
All of the parties involved said they are concerned about the future of federal funding for mass transit, as the federal transportation reauthorization bill has stalled in Congress for the past few years, Nance said.
"There is a school of thought in Washington that more of that money ought to go to building highways, so we have to be careful as we pursue this," Nance said.