DALLAS — A proposed commuter bus service between downtown Arlington and the Trinity Railway Express CentrePort Station in Fort Worth rolled a little closer to reality Tuesday.Dallas Area Rapid Transits Committee-of-the-Whole gave initial approval to a public transit service agreement with Arlington to operate buses between the two destinations during a two-year pilot project expected to start in August. The committee is expected to take a final vote May 28 and send the proposal to the DART board of directors for approval.The Arlington City Council could give initial approval to a joint contract with DART and the Fort Worth Transportation Authority to operate the service as soon as Tuesday, followed by a final vote June 4.A bus stop is expected to be located downtown near the University of Texas at Arlingtons new College Park District. Beginning in August, which coincides with the start of the fall semester, buses would travel Monday through Friday to and from the CentrePort Station, said Todd Plesko, DARTs vice president of planning and development. From there, riders could catch a TRE train to Dallas or Fort Worth.Arlington would pay half of the up to $700,000 annual contract. UT Arlington and the local business community have pledged to pay the other half during the pilot program. The city might have to pay more if it wants to add stops, such as within the entertainment district, Plesko said.The service would transport 300 to 600 riders each week, city officials have said. Bus riders could be asked to pay a $5 fare, which would also let them access the TRE without having to pay an additional fare to take the train east or west.City officials say the pilot project will help gauge residents interest in public transportation and create needed connectivity between Arlington and the rest of the region. The city has made no commitments to funding bus service beyond 24 months.It does not have a comprehensive public transit system but does offer low-cost transportation to the elderly and disabled through Handitran and rides for low- and moderate-income workers through the Ride2Work program.Board Chairman John Carter Danish called the contractual service a golden opportunity to get Arlington residents comfortable with DART buses and the idea of public transportation.I want to go as a missionary into Arlington and show them why the citizens have been robbed by not having a mass-transit system. They will say one day, Why cant we have a transit system? and vote.The DART committee did not unanimously support the plan on the first vote, citing concerns about Arlingtons long-term commitment, having more than one pickup point and whether DARTs name would be less prominent on the buses than Arlingtons. Seven members supported the plan, five opposed it, and one abstained.Under new rules adopted by DART in March for nonmember cities, contractual bus services would end after two years unless Arlington agreed to begin preparing to pay for permanent service. Those rules would require the city to hold a referendum within four years on whether to commit 1 cent of its sales tax to DART membership, which is what other cities have paid for years. That 1-cent sales tax is the equivalent of $50 million a year, Arlington officials said.Board member Paul Wageman said he was concerned that the contract did not specifically outline the expectations of DARTs policy on nonmember cities.There is nothing in this contract that reflects the policy the board passed, Wageman said. If Arlington doesnt like Dallas or doesnt like Dallas Area Rapid Transit and they dont want to consider joining the DART system then perhaps we shouldnt do this transaction with them. Perhaps they are better off finding their own. This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639 Twitter: @susanschrock