Public transportation buses in particular were as much part of the downtown El Paso experience as San Jacinto Plaza or the Plaza Theater. Ask enough people and stories reminiscent of the downtown of yore will be rife with at least these three elements. Riding the bus downtown was more common and became part of the overall experience. Over the decades downtown became less and less the nucleus of consumerism, business or culture as the rest of El Paso grew-creating a “driving” culture.
Wide-spread revitalization is underway in the Sun City with downtown at the tip of the phalanx, creating a ripple effect being felt in periphery businesses and service organizations such as Sun Metro.
Laura Cruz-Acosta the spokesman for Sun Metro tells us, “In 2006, Sun Metro was not a viable service. We had buses breaking down, our on time-time performance was in the mid-70 percentile.”
The last few years has seen an impressive re-branding and improvement of services by Sun Metro. “Today Sun Metro has made a 180 degree turn around. We have improved our on-time performance to the mid-90 percentile, we have new buses, new modern transfer centers with several state and national awards,” said Cruz-Acosta.
Sun Metro was awarded the Outstanding Metropolitan Transit System Award by the Texas Transit Association in April of this year for ongoing efforts to improve public transportation.
The improvements to public transportation include the implementation of four new terminals with the Park + Ride service used for the El Paso Chihuahuas ballgames and more. Cruz-Acosta elaborates on the improvements, “Sun Metro created several new circulator and express routes, built over 300 new shelters and the exciting new project, Sun Metro Brio is expected to be in service no later than fall of this year.”
In addition, Sun Metro offers a little known “free” circulator bus with Dwntwn branding generated by the Downtown Management District. The two circulator buses pick and drop off exclusively in the downtown area.
These changes address continued El Paso growth and its need for better services and an evolving downtown. The Park + Ride service provides a convenient option to get to and from the game using Sun Metro. The new Brio Rapid Transit System (RTS) is a much more efficient mode of public transportation, “Brio offers similar benefits to light rail transit, such as improved speed and reliability but at a much lower implementation cost,” said Cruz-Acosta.
Sun Metro recognizes public transportations role in the growth of downtown. According to the American Public Transportation Association-for every $1 invested in public transportation there is approximately $4 in economic returns. Every $10 million in capital investment in public transportation yields $32 million in increased business sales. “Public transit can help create a better quality of life and be part of the solution to the nation’s economic, energy, and environmental challenges”, said Cruz-Acosta.
For a city with one urban center that continues to grow outward instead of upward does the Sun City have pedestrians willing to use public transportation to get downtown? The Park + Ride service garnered some answers to that question.
Cheryl Torsney, an El Paso transplant originally from Youngstown, Ohio told us, “The Sun Metro folks were terrific although we found out it is just as easy to drive and find parking close to the [ballpark].”
Erin Ritter a native El Pasoan shared the experience of taking her Brownie troop on the Park + Ride, “We got to the Westside terminal as the bus was filling and the driver let us know an additional bus was coming. The driver was super friendly and helpful and it was fun riding on a bus full of fans!”
Erin also tells us how easy Park + Ride was to use and she could not resist the opportunity to teach her daughter about other modes of transportation, sharing how her Grandmother did the same for her,” We would spend the day shopping downtown and would end up at the Kress building for a little treat before we went to San Jacinto Plaza to catch the bus,” adding, “Because I shared these stories about riding the bus downtown so much, I think my daughter thought it was the only way to get downtown.”
Sun Metro has recently committed to offering the Park + Ride service to the El Paso Chihuahuas home games for the remainder of the 2014 baseball season.
Indeed, riding the bus used to be synonymous with the downtown experience. Celebrated local artist Gaspar Enriquez who recently had his exhibit Metaphors of El Barrio showing at the El Paso Museum of Art had this to share, “On many occasions as I was growing up and living in the projects on Olive street, we would take the bus into downtown. With no car yet, on the weekends we would go to the movies, go shopping and even go on dates using the bus!”
KLAQ radio personality Fernando Cuevas’ grandfather was a bus driver so his positive association with the bus stemmed from an early age. “I went to high school near downtown and I would ride the bus to San Jacinto Plaza and after school I would eat at the restaurants in the Kress building since at the time they had Arby’s, McDonald’s and even a small Chinese restaurant,” he said.
Even Mayor Leeser told the INSIDER on a previous interview about his memories of riding the bus as a youth into downtown, “When I was a little boy, it was very inexpensive and we would ride the bus and go to the movies downtown. It was neat, we would go to the Palace and Plaza Theatres and I remember watching Planet of the Apes.”
It is clear, we will never recapture that special period of time that is encapsulated in downtown, El Paso history, however; the future of downtown and its emerging identity are promising. Already new memories are being created with a new generation of parents and grandparents riding the improved Sun Metro buses to baseball games and with the renovated Plaza Theatre fully realized and the renewed San Jacinto Plaza not far off, more memories are sure to be made.
For more information http://www.sunmetro.net