ARLINGTON — With the launch of its new weekday commuter bus service, Arlington temporarily shed its distinction as the largest American city without mass transportation.Mayor Robert Cluck and other city leaders climbed aboard the Metro ArlingtonXpress, also known as the MAX, on Monday morning to experience the ride between downtown and the Trinity Railway Express CentrePort/DFW Airport Station. The service will operate Monday through Friday as part of a two-year pilot project to help gauge the demand for mass transit.“This is an important step in connecting Arlington with the Metroplex. We are not connected as we should be today, but we will be tomorrow,” Cluck said.From downtown Arlington, riders can take the bus to the TRE station, where they can connect to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport or catch a train to Dallas, Fort Worth or other destinations along the rail line. From the TRE station, riders can catch a ride to downtown Arlington shops, entertainment venues and restaurants as well as the University of Texas at Arlington. Varun Mallipaddi, UT Arlington’s Student Congress President, said the weekday bus service will open up work and recreational opportunities outside of Arlington for many college students.“Now we are connected. We have a significant number of students on campus with little to no means of transportation to different parts of North Texas,” Mallipaddi said. “These students now have endless possibilities thanks to MAX.”Financial windfallUp to an estimated 250 passengers a day will be making round trips on the MAX after the first year of operation, city officials said.The two-year pilot program, operated by Dallas Area Rapid Transit and the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, is expected to cost $1.4 million. Cluck announced Monday that the North Central Texas Council of Governments has agreed to reimburse half of the costs. The city, UT Arlington and the Arlington Chamber of Commerce combined will pay the other half.Arlington’s new bus stop is located near the university at the southwest corner of UTA Boulevard and Center Street.“It’s not just a tool for UT Arlington’s 33,000 students and 4,000 faculty and staff, although they will certainly be amongst those who benefit,” said Vistasp Karbhari, University of Texas at Arlington president. “It will be a tool to make this one of the greatest regions in the nation.” City officials are planning another stop later this year somewhere within the entertainment district that would serve major employment centers such as the Lincoln Square Shopping Center and businesses along the Collins Street corridor.Pragmatic first stepCity leaders say they are hopeful the service will be a success, but only time will tell. Ultimately, Arlington voters may be asked whether to fund the commuter bus service permanently and stay connected with regional rail. There also is the belief by some that this could lead to broader service within the city.“It just seems to be me to be a prudent, pragmatic initial step if we are going to demonstrate at all if this works for our city,” City Manager Trey Yelverton said. “If this simple, surgical connection doesn’t work, then I think we’d have a lot more questions than answers.”Under rules adopted by DART in March for nonmember cities, MAX 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.City voters have rejected raising sales taxes for transit three times since 1980.This also isn’t the first time Arlington has offered a shuttle. From 2008 to 2011, the city of Arlington and the Fort Worth Worth Transportation Authority provided service to downtown Fort Worth, but it was dropped because of low ridership.Arlington resident Richard Weber said he opposes taxpayer support for the service, which benefits few commuters and doesn’t get them to jobs or other destinations within the city. “In my opinion, [Arlington’s] still the largest city without mass transit,” said Weber, who called the city’s bus stop “just another TRE parking lot.” “This downtown location looks like it’s mainly for UTA students. UTA could have done this on its own. We didn’t have to get the city involved at all.” This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639 Twitter: @susanschrock