The MAX is back, at least for a year. But it wasn’t easy.
The City Council, by a 6-3 vote Tuesday, approved the city’s share of funding — about $177,000 — to extend the low-cost bus service Metro ArlingtonXpress Arlington for a full year beyond its scheduled expiration on Dec. 31.
The vote on the MAX — with council members Charlie Parker, Robert Rivera and Victoria Farrar-Myers opposed — followed several citizen speakers who argued that the level of ridership hasn’t justified the cost and that the University of Texas at Arlington should bear more of it.
A federal grant is paying half of the $708,000 extension of the MAX service, which runs a short loop with stops at UTA, an intersection near AT&T Stadium and the Texas Railway Express CentrePoint/DFW Airport station in north Arlington to connect with commuter trains. The city and UTA have agreed to split the $354,000 difference.
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But UTA, whose students and employees make up 50 percent of the riders, has so far only verbally agreed to pay its share. City Manager Trey Yelverton said an interlocal cooperation agreement that formally commits UTA financially would be coming soon, but in the meantime, the handshake leaves the city technically on the hook to make the Dec. 31 deadline.
That drew complaints from several speakers.
“There’s just no justification I can see for spending this kind of money — my tax money — to do this,” resident Rachel Reynolds told the council.
Several council members asked to postpone action until next week to give the university time to put it in writing. Staff officials weren’t sure UTA could approve and deliver the paperwork before the deadline, and the grant funding falls through if the remaining 50 percent isn’t locked down.
“We need to fully fund this measure in order for it to go forward,” City Attorney Teris Solis said.
The MAX started as a two-year pilot program in August 2013 and was extended for one year in 2015. In July, the council extended the service again, through 2016.
The MAX costs $5 for a full-day pass, with students paying half-price. Its ridership has been below expectations, hovering around the low end of the projected range of 250 to 500 one-way trips per day.
Rivera has wavered on the issue, voting for the MAX’s creation four years ago, against its first extension in 2015, for it in July and against it on Tuesday. He said that he was swayed partly by “overwhelming numbers of citizens” opposed to it and that he believes the extended pilot program has produced all the data it can.
“This was never intended to be a long-term fix,” Rivera said.
Some figured they had reason to distrust a verbal agreement with UTA. Last year, the university pulled out of the previous deal at the last minute and left the city to fill the gap.
But Yelverton said that UTA, at the time, was frustrated by the city’s “lack of a transportation plan.” Now, he said, the city has its Transportation Advisory Committee in full swing and plans are taking shape.
College officials have “started to see our efforts,” Yelverton said.
The MAX is a benefit in another way. Arlington, the 50th-largest city in the nation, has long been known as the largest U.S city without public transit system. As small as the MAX is, city officials contend it’s enough to lift that label.