Arlington needs vision to move MAX buses into realistic transit future

Posted Thursday, Jun. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Arlington wants to be a player.

That’s long been the goal of city leaders.

They’ve achieved it in the sports world, with Rangers Ballpark and Cowboys Stadium attracting big-league professional games and big-time college events.

But does Arlington have the chops for a key role in the transportation network that rapidly is linking cities all around it?

New bus service between downtown Arlington and the Trinity Railway Express CentrePort Station south of DFW Airport is scheduled to start Aug. 19.

It’s a two-year pilot project funded jointly by the city ($350,000 a year), the University of Texas at Arlington ($230,000 a year) and Arlington business community through the chamber of commerce ($120,000 a year). Riders will pay $5, which includes train fare.

The Monday-through-Friday service aims to connect Arlington commuters with the TRE, which runs between Fort Worth and Dallas, and with the airport, which is reachable from CentrePort via shuttles.

They’ve given the buses a catchy name: MAX, for Metro ArlingtonXpress.

Anyone who recognizes Arlington’s urgent need for mass transit should hope that more catches on than just the name.

Use of this limited bus service won’t provide an ideal barometer for transit demand in Arlington, but it can be an important gauge that helps lead to more and better options.

For one thing, some drivers will shun buses even though they would trade their cars to ride a train. Because of that, MAX ridership most likely will reflect only a segment of the potential audience for a broader system.

Also, riding the system will be more like flying Southwest Airlines long-distance than taking a direct flight, so pack your patience and perseverance. Getting from Arlington to Fort Worth, Dallas or cities in between, for example, will require passengers to transfer from the bus to the TRE then possibly to another bus or Dallas Area Rapid Transit light rail train if downtown isn’t their final destination.

A one-seat ride from point of origin to destination clearly would be preferable. But urban travelers in many cities get accustomed to more-involved commutes and willingly make the trade-off to save on gas, vehicle maintenance and parking and avoid traffic hassles.

Right now, the MAX appears to be targeted at moving students and workers between UTA’s College Park District and CentrePort, then to points beyond. But another goal should be to draw Fort Worth and Dallas residents to Arlington’s attractions.

During the summer and other times when schools are out, families from Dallas take the TRE and the Route 7 bus to the Fort Worth Zoo and museums. Fort Worth residents likewise ride the train to Dallas locales, transferring downtown to DART rail and buses. The TRE also has become a popular option from Tarrant County to major events at the American Airlines Center.

Visitors could take the train and bus to events at UTA and restaurants in the College Park District or nearby central Arlington. But there’s also opportunity for connecting travelers to the city’s entertainment corridor: College Park Center is just two miles from Cowboys Stadium, less than three from the Ballpark and less than four from Six Flags Over Texas or Hurricane Harbor.

Some of this would work best if the weekday service eventually justifies expansion to Saturdays. The TRE doesn’t run on Sundays.

A more-immediate concern, though, will have to be sustaining the system past the pilot term. While the partnership includes the T in Fort Worth, the DART system will operate MAX through a separate local government entity. DART also put into the agreement a requirement that Arlington decide within four years whether to join DART through a 1-cent sales tax levy.

Because Arlington still is paying bonds for its share of Cowboys Stadium, the city doesn’t have capacity to collect that much. As Arlington’s transportation vision moves forward, a more-realistic funding scenario will have to be developed.

In the meantime, the challenge is to turn ambitions for MAX into reality.

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