Holy crap @Buzz2kb, that was some report. Congrats by the way on photographing a bus on every single route in the VIA system during your stay. That proves real dedication there. As for your questions and observations, let me throw in my knowledge.
DE40LFR’s: The DE40LFRs are strictly for express routes since they are branded Express buses on the outside. I have caught several instances where they’re run on local routes (28 Porter, 550 Looper is a big offender here, and like the one you caught on the 620). When that happens I think it’s just usually a driver preference, in that they chose to grab that bus from garage instead of the one already assigned. However during peak hours there are not enough buses to run all the express routes, so that is when ANY other bus can fill in. Honestly I would use the Nova’s since as you put it they are “spanklingly new,” but in most cases there should already be a bus assigned to each route. I’ll describe their use on PRIMO routes shortly. Out of 30 buses, only 2 are repainted into the PRIMO livery, #402 and #404. #401 is the only bus to be repainted into the new livery with the angled stripes. #405 used to be the Classroom on Wheels bus and was covered in a special wrap, but since the XN40s joined the fleet it was returned to express service and the wrap removed. As for the roof fairings, I think you named all the other transit agencies that carry them, and it honestly took me several years to get used to seeing them.
PRIMO: When PRIMO first launched in late 2012 it was only one route using the artics from downtown to the Medical Center, with branching trips to the main UTSA campus. It was not uncommon to see a DE40LFR on the 100 during the first year of operation due to problems in the engine block. For that reason, the hybrids would fill in while the artics were in the shop. A year later the branch to Leon Valley was added, plus the addition of 3 extra buses. Because of this it became rare to see the hybrids on PRIMO, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen sometimes. They did however repaint the two mentioned above for PRIMO service to use during nonpeak hours since it’s not usually busy at that time. When the routes were separated last year, they gave the 40 footers (including the 2 new XN40’s) to the 101 because it doesn’t have a high ridership demand like the 100 does. Plus the 101 only uses 4 buses since its schedule is every 30 minutes. There is no length restriction involved here. And for your claim about allowing lower-emission buses on PRIMO, well it just comes down to comfort. The hybrids have the plush reclining seats, and the XN40s are still fairly new.
Security: It all depends on the person. I’ve seen chill security guards and I’ve seen ones that get on your case for not using the designated crosswalk at the park & ride/transit center. It could be because you were at Kel Lac and its proximity to Lackland AFB that this one guard approached you. It’s sometimes hard to tell. I’ve never had any problems, but then again I never fan at major transfer points, just so I can avoid these kinds of confrontations.
Interlining: When VIA overhauled the entire system in 2003, some routes were eliminated, consolidated, or added. That’s when several route pairings had to be adjusted. To this day VIA still has routes continue as another route based on the following criteria: ridership, frequency, scheduling, and type of service (Express, Metro, etc.). That’s why you will see a skip route paired with another skip, and so on. There was a time when a metro route continued as an express route, but because the metro route always ran late, it didn’t interline well schedule-wise with the express route and they were eventually separated. Usually pairs are east/west routes and north/south routes. Using the 550/551 as an example, interlining with these routes would be impossible. Because they travel on a loop, their schedule can become unreliable so quick. The Loopers have had several schedule adjustments in the past several years because of construction projects, traffic delays, and increased ridership. I remember when it used to take 3 hours to do the entire loop; now it can take anywhere from 3 ½ to 4 hours. It all just depends on the routes.
Ridership: For high ridership routes, obviously look to the frequent routes (2, 4, 14, 24, 25, 24, 51, 66, 68, 75, 82, 520, 534, 550, and 551). Routes with low ridership for right now are VIVA (11, 40, and 301), metro routes 54, 62, 70, 89 (maybe), and maybe some of the 600’s.
2010 NABI’s: The four 2010 NABI’s 947-950 are weird. They used to run on the downtown circulator routes when that was still a thing. Once PRIMO came on board, they got reassigned to the 7 Sightseer Special and his pair the 70 Cesar Chavez and also the 601 Medical Center Shuttle (this route only lasted a year). Then the 7 was eliminated and they got reassigned again to the 22/70. Sometimes you can spot them on the 36 S. Presa when it does a long-haul trip to Elmendorf P/R during peak hours. These are the only routes I’ve ever seen them on. They don’t venture out enough if you ask me.
Repaints: As far as the new livery goes, only 1 DE40LFR (#401) and 4 2008 D40LFs (339, 340, 341, & 343) were repainted. All other D40LF’s have the original livery. The hybrids still have their turquoise wave, except for #402 and #404 which were repainted into PRIMO. The XN40’s #406-417 are wrapped for VIVA service, while #418 is wrapped as the new Classroom on Wheels bus, now known as the eXplore bus. #419 and #420 are painted as PRIMO.
As for the NABI repaints (if you want to know which bus got repainted into which color, let me know):
Gray – 7
Blue – 17
Purple – 19
Orange – 20
Red – 22
Nova’s: VIA has a 5-year contract with Nova Bus for 135 buses per year for the first 3 years, then 50 buses on year 4, and 45 buses on year 5. We were originally only supposed to get the first 135 this year, but VIA recently sold some bonds to be able to purchase the next 135 right away. That means we are getting 270 this year. The first batch #421-555 have already been delivered and are in service. The second batch is currently in production/delivery, and will more than likely be #556-690.
301 VIVA Centro: Out of 19 Optima Streetcars, 7 have been retired already. #96-100 were retired some years ago, while #101 and #109 were just retired last month. The 3 Proterra electric buses can only run on the 301 because the charging station is located on the route. As to what would replace the streetcars, who knows? I doubt VIA would go with more electric buses since they grounded the Proterra’s for about a year (since the launch of VIVA service last summer). There is no length restriction on this route either, as (and I forgot to mention this above) I’ve seen the 2010 NABI’s on this route a couple of times before. That means that the XN40’s can run on this route, or even the new Nova’s if VIA wanted to (which I kind of doubt). I wouldn’t even consider VIA getting trolley replicas from Gillig either, as those don’t run on CNG.
Hopefully this helps, and let me know if you have anymore questions.