Richard Greene: Will Arlington be connected to the region or bypassed?

11/23/2013 12:00 AM

11/22/2013 6:25 PM

A Star-Telegram story earlier this month reported that Arlington’s 90-day-old experiment with commuter bus service would now include expanded hours of operation and a new stop in the midst of one of the state’s most prominent destinations (“Buses are running later in Arlington,” Nov. 12).

Some might have reacted by wondering why such a stop wasn’t already included along the route between the UTA campus and the CentrePort station connecting to the train that runs between Fort Worth and Dallas.

Negative feedback in other quarters, however, was immediate.

Response to the two-year pilot project to judge current demand for some form of public transit in the city could be found among various social media websites and in letters to this newspaper’s editor.

Summed up in a few words, opponents seemed to be asking: What is it about “no” that Arlington officials don’t understand?

Yes, we all know the familiar refrain of Arlington reportedly being the nation’s largest city without public transit. Many newcomers, especially college students and residents who came from places where mass transportation is as routine a service as mail delivery, wonder why.

Others blame the community’s leaders for failing to provide what many see as an essential municipal service. These folks may not be familiar with the history of the efforts to make such an accommodation a reality.

Public transportation systems don’t happen without public funding. The fare box doesn’t produce sufficient revenue to run buses on the streets or trains on rails.

So, the first step to getting those services is to appropriate funding.

Cities with public transit systems throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area have gotten the approval of their voters for a sales tax as the source of the necessary revenue — except for Arlington.

Three transit elections spanning more than 30 years have been held in Arlington, and all have failed.

In fact, voters have said “no” in increasing majorities every time they faced the question on a ballot.

In all of those elections, the measures being proposed had the full support of all of the city’s mayors, City Council members, chamber of commerce directors, the school board, UT Arlington senior administrators and community and public service organizations across the city.

Historically, whenever a proposal has had that kind of endorsement by the city’s leadership, voters have supported it. But not when their approval would have provided bus rides for those who need or want them.

Continuing the search for a plan that would succeed, a collaborative team was assembled among the city, the transit authorities of Fort Worth and Dallas, UT Arlington and the Arlington Chamber of Commerce to launch the two-year trial of an idea that seemed compelling.

Some aren’t interested in measuring the current need and demand.

They seem ready to reject any new proposal even before one is formed or before the results of the experiment, underway for just three months, are known.

That’s unsettling, to say the least. The Dallas-Fort Worth urban area is the fastest-growing in the country.

Transit systems of the region are expanding rapidly. Arlington is in the middle of it all.

Without a way to connect, the region’s third-largest city will be bypassed like an island surrounded by millions of people and robust economies on the move.

It’s worth at least a moment’s thought to consider the possibilities of joining the system and the consequences of being left behind.

In the end, local voters will decide — as it should be.

In the meantime, can we examine the results of the two-year trial when it’s over before declaring it, as one writer did, a boondoggle?

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and he served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

About Richard Greene

Richard Greene

With long experience in government including 10 years as mayor of Arlington, an adjunct professorship in UT Arlington's School of Urban and Public Affairs and service as President George W. Bush's regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, Richard Greene is an expert on public policy, politics and decision-making on issues facing North Texas.

He has strong opinions about elected officials and those who would like to join them.

Email Richard at mayorgreene@mayorgreene.com.

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