Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Is Arlington on the Bus?

Small bit of transit news I have to relay and comment on, something that is near and dear to me. I love my Alma Mater UT-Arlington, which obviously happens to reside in Arlington, a city I happen to dislike. It creates a very big conflict for me. One of the big reasons I dislike Arlington is that for all intents and purposes, having a car is mandatory.

That really hasn't changed, but the City, UTA and business leaders funded and worked up plans to launch a shuttle bus that runs from downtown Arlington, specifically near UTA's new arena in the College Park District, to Centrepointe Station on the TRE commuter line. That debuted on Monday. It runs weekdays, 6am to 10pm. Since Centrepoint is the fare boundary on the TRE line, riders need only one fare, regardless of destination.

Website here
DMN story here

This continues a trend of area suburbs, without a full time agency providing service, contracting with Dallas Area Rapid Transit for some form of shuttle. With Mesquite, it was a commuter shuttle to the Green Line. For Allen, they want to funnel shoppers to their shopping centers. McKinney is a hybrid. Only Mesquite has gotten their service off the ground so far. As of this week, they now aren't alone.

First, I want to say I am proud of my Alma Mater. They convened something akin to a sustainability council several years ago and were able to get a lot of things done to lower their environmental impact. One of their recommendations was a transit service of some kind. They operate a shuttle service within the campus, but there are no broader connections. I thought this particular point was going to rest in the report and stay there. But, to my surprise and happiness, they were one of the main driving points in getting this shuttle running. My campus is now like many of the Dallas County Community College Campus and has at least some form of rudimentary transit service. Kudos to them for finding a way to get it done.

For this particular route, I really like it, especially when taken into context. Unlike the Mesquite route, this runs all day. Love it. Wish the frequencies were better, but they were timed to coincide with the TRE train, which is commuter and therefore a transit service with long headways, and that has nothing to do with this shuttle route. UTA is a school of 33,000, and since roughly 20,000-25,000 don't live on campus, it should have at least some using the service. Selfishly, I can now attend a weekday basketball game and not drive. Awesome.

But, as was my problem with Mesquite, this is still just a piecemeal approach, and is still plagued with the same political stumbles.

The rest of Arlington is still suburban-oriented. A car is still a must to be here and this bus doesn't change that, though there are plans for a stop in the sprawling entertainment district (I hope there is more than one, because the distance between the stadiums and amusement parks are great and a freeway even bisects the area. If it is just one, that will assuredly lower the ridership).

A lot of Arlington leaders recognize the shortcomings, and say that this will help change the attitude of Arlington residents toward transit. They have voted against transit initiatives three times after all. However, I debate that.

They voted against the 1980 Lone Star Transportation Authority, 741 for to 5,381 against but so did about 60 other area cities. Only four approved it. It was too vague and no details about service, governing structure or day-to-day managing made it very sketchy.

In 1985, a serious proposal came through that would have had only Arlington bus service, with a light rail line on Cooper or Collins with a Commuter rail connection to Dallas. Other than the lack of regional connections, just one on a commuter line, I liked the proposal, but it was defeated, 4,507 for to 5,735 against.

Then in 2002, a city-only bus proposal was put forth and it failed. In my opinion, it was so pitiful that I couldn't support it either. The vote totals were 7,716 for to 10,576 against.

So, of the three rejections, a transit proponent like me would have voted against two of them. Does that make them anti-transit?

Looking at the vote totals, the closest outcome was in 1985, when 44% supported it. That was also the best overall service proposal. With the change in times and demographics, I seriously believe that a simple yes or no vote to join either the Fort-Worth-based T or DART would be successful.

I can't say for sure if this made a difference in the votes, but a local bus service isn't worth much if there aren't regional connections. In a region this size, very few stay within municipal borders. There are also economies of scale at work. Look at the northern DART suburbs as an example. One route can cut through Garland, Richardson, Dallas, Addison and Carrollton. That route would be far, far less effective if it was only in one of those. Making the citizens vote on a regional transit service will likely change enough minds that it would pass.

In many ways, I think it may be the addition of something I believe to be a waste of municipal dollars and energy that is responsible for the renewed focus of Arlington civic leaders, Cowboys Stadium (or whatever the latest corporate name is for it). The auto traffic is so bad there that there is no choice but to realize the car is not the only piece here.

There are a lot of reports that contain Arlington is the largest city in the country without transit and that Arlington is hostile to the idea of transit. I would say that is somewhat inaccurate. Arlington leaders are very receptive to transit, but they don't have a lot to work with. Their sales tax doesn't allow for them to join the T, which needs a half cent, let alone DART, which is a full penny. Within the framework of how North Texas provides transit, what are their options. Until just recently, they couldn't even contract for bus service like they do know.

In the end, it doesn't matter if this helps change negative minds about transit in Arlington. If there isn't sales tax room, there can never be a vote, unless somehow a different funding mechanism is found AND agreed on by all parties. I don't think it is impossible, but the provincialism that runs rampant in DFW is no small mountain.

For what it is, I think it is really solid. This is a route I will use, as will several more since it hits one of the denser parts of Arlington, specifically the University and its potential student population. It will require multiple transfers if they are Dallas bound, since Union is adjacent to very little.

I'm often asked if something is better than nothing, even if it isn't perfect or near it. In this case, I would have to say yes.

1 comment:

Ken Duble said...

While I agree with your observations about local provincialism, local entities in Texas are a creation of the state. State Sen. John Carona fought the good fight and lost. Until the legislature gives us the tools to work with, I see no potential for change.