Arlington’s pilot bus program is catching on

08/19/2014 3:40 PM

08/19/2014 9:55 PM

Once or twice a week, Karan Shah hops on a Metro ArlingtonXpress bus at the University of Texas at Arlington, which takes him to a Trinity Railway Express stop in east Fort Worth. From there he takes the commuter rail to downtown Dallas, where he’ll hang out with friends or catch a Greyhound bus to visit family in Austin.

Shah, a computer science graduate student from India, doesn’t have a car. So he and his friends say they also rely on the bus service to go grocery shopping off campus thanks to a stop in Arlington’s entertainment district.

“We would have to take a taxi, which is really costly. The MAX is quite cheap,” said Shah, adding that his day pass for public transportation around Dallas/Fort Worth costs only $2.50 since he’s a student. “I use the WiFi and just surf the web, sitting and relaxing.”

Arlington celebrated the one-year anniversary of its bus service Tuesday with coffee, juice and doughnuts at the College Park stop for early morning riders such as Shah. Metro ArlingtonXpress, known as MAX, runs from about 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday between downtown Arlington and the TRE CentrePort/DFW Airport Station.

More than 64,600 one-way trips have been logged on MAX buses since the service rolled out last August, said Alicia Winkelblech, a long-range planning manager for Arlington’s Community Development and Planning Department.

Over the past year, ridership has ranged from a low of 134 average trips per day one week in December to a high of 331 average trips per day one week in June, according to city records.

City officials hope to see between 250 and 500 one-way trips per day by the end of the two-year pilot program.

“We’re doing well. We climbed all the way to 330 trips per day on average before school was out,” said Winkelblech, adding that many riders are students, faculty and staff at UT Arlington. “We hope we see an increase in ridership as word of mouth spreads and riders understand how MAX can work for them.”

‘A great option’

The pilot program, operated by Dallas Area Rapid Transit and Fort Worth Transportation, costs $1.4 million.

The North Central Texas Council of Governments has agreed to reimburse half of the costs through a transportation grant. The city, UTA and the Arlington Chamber of Commerce combined are paying the other half.

“This is a pilot. We’re trying to not only test the service in general and see what type of demand there is from residents,” Winkelblech said. “It’s also providing us with information about the types of locations that people would like to go to.”

Stuart Rosenberg, a UTA Library employee, said MAX allows him to study his law school textbooks and avoid the headaches of driving in rush-hour traffic on his commute from Fort Worth to Arlington.

“I got tired of driving. [Interstate] 20 is getting busier and busier. This is a great option,” said Rosenberg, 61.

The downtown Arlington stop is at the southwest corner of UTA Boulevard and Center Street, with free surface parking nearby. Riders can take a bus from there to the TRE CentrePort Station, where they can then catch the commuter train to Fort Worth or Dallas. From Dallas, riders can hop on DART light rail to go to other destinations.

Riders also have a chance to get on or off MAX in Arlington’s entertainment district. Two stops are located on Andrews Street on both the east and west side of Collins Street, south of the Lincoln Square shopping center.

“We’re getting usage there. It is definitely not as highly used as the College Park stop. There are not as many destinations there that people are trying to get to,” Winkelblech said. “Adding that stop allowed us to see what interest is there. Because it is only a Monday through Friday service, we are not getting the same use for special events as we would if we were able to provide weekend service.”

Single-day passes are $5, and pass holders can ride the TRE and any buses or trains in their choice of either the west zone, which includes Fort Worth’s transportation system, or the east zone, which includes Dallas’ transportation system. Students, seniors and disabled passengers can ride for $2.50 a day or buy the $80 monthly pass at half price.

Ana Enriquez, who will start attending classes UTA this fall, tried the MAX for the first time Tuesday. She said her trip, which including taking a train from downtown Fort Worth to the TRE and then a bus to the campus, was about 50 minutes long.

Enriquez said the monthly pass will save her $200 a semester in parking fees.

“Forty bucks a month is going to be way cheaper than gas,” she said. “I’ll bring my laptop and maybe do homework or read.”

‘Riders love the service’

The Arlington City Council is expected to decide next year closer to the end of the pilot whether to pursue a long-term transportation option, which would likely require voter approval for funding.

Under rules adopted by DART last year, contractual bus services for nonmember cities, such as Arlington, would end after two years unless that city agreed to begin preparing to pay for permanent service. Those rules require Arlington to hold a referendum within four years on whether to commit 1 cent of its sales tax to DART membership, which is what other member cities have paid for years.

That 1-cent sales tax is the equivalent of $50 million a year, Arlington officials have said.

Arlington voters have rejected raising sales taxes for transit three times between 1980 and 2002.

Kristine Lee Ferguson is among the residents who say they would love for Arlington to have a more expansive transit system. Her mother, who has health issues and uses a walker, frequently relies on Handitran to grocery-shop, visit the doctor or run other errands, but that service is not always available.

Ferguson said the MAX bus stop at Collins Street and Andrews is too far to walk to for her 63-year-old mother, who lives in a senior apartment community on east Sanford Street near AT&T Stadium.

“It makes me so mad about Jerry Jones being right there. We have a stadium but Arlington doesn’t have a bus system,” Ferguson said. “There should be some kind of bus system for people like my mom and my friend who can’t drive.”

In city surveys, riders or would-be riders expressed interest in extending the MAX bus service south of downtown to

The Parks at Arlington mall on South Cooper Street. The city has not explored the cost to expand the service during the pilot program, Winkelblech said.

“Most of our emails are asking for additional service. They want Saturday service or additional stops. We periodically ride the bus to check on the riders,” Winkelblech said. “Generally the feedback we get is the riders love the service.”

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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