Fort Worth

More money for Fort Worth public transportation? Here’s an option

Grassroots Tarrant Transit Alliance formed to support the Fort Worth Transportation Authority. It’s calling for more public funding.
Grassroots Tarrant Transit Alliance formed to support the Fort Worth Transportation Authority. It’s calling for more public funding. Star-Telegram archives

Advocates for public transportation plan to ask the Fort Worth City Council on Tuesday to put more money toward the city’s transit needs.

The Tarrant Transit Alliance was launched late last week on the heels of Councilwoman Ann Zadeh’s plea to her council colleagues that the city not reduce the property tax rate as planned.

Instead of the proposed reduction of 3 cents for the 2018 budget, Zadeh suggested a cut of 2 cents, with the money going to the T to help it improve services.

Zadeh’s remarks came during a budget work session Thursday, in which she said it was “irresponsible” the city wasn’t doing more to help the T put in a master plan the City Council asked for three years ago. She also said the council needs to stop talking about improving public transportation and actually do something.

“We will never be able to raise taxes to cover transit,” Zadeh said. “This is the only opportunity. If we don’t start doing this in some form or fashion, we might as well announce to the world that we’re not planning to be a city that has good transit. We will just grind into congestion and people will stop wanting to come here; stop wanting to live here.”

The T has asked the city for $4.2 million in the 2018 budget. The money would be used to expand services and make transit improvements for the western quadrant of the city, including improving services to the beleaguered Las Vegas Trail neighborhood in far west Fort Worth.

Each penny in the city’s property tax rate generates about $5.7 million in revenue. The city is considering lowering the property tax rate to $80.5 cents per $100 assessed valuation. The city is expected to vote on the rate and its $1.7 billion fiscal 2018 budget Sept. 19. The city’s budget begins Oct. 1.

The city funds the T with a half-cent of the city’s sales tax. In 2017, the amount was about $68 million. Austin, which is a little larger in population than Fort Worth, spends $199 million on its public transportation. Dallas spends $538 million.

Karen Vermaire Fox, executive director of the Real Estate Council of Greater Fort Worth and management consultant and spokeswoman for the newly formed group, said the idea for the Tarrant Transit Alliance has been in the wings for some time. The group plans to address the council during the public hearing on the proposed 2018 budget, she said.

The alliance will advocate, educate and help bring financial partners to the T, Fox said. The Real Estate Council of Greater Fort Worth and the T have each pledged $25,000 for three years to the group, and Tarrant County College has said it would help with seed money as well, Fox said.

Transportation spending is going to become critical as more companies look to Fort Worth to locate here, including last week’s announcement that online retail giant Amazon is seeking a location for a second headquarters city, Fox said. Dallas and Fort Worth are jointly preparing a bid to attract Amazon to the region.

“A key piece of that is having a transportation component to move their employees around,” Fox said. “And we don’t have that.”

Andrea Ballard, a Fort Worth consultant, for now will head and develop the Tarrant Transit Alliance. She is not related to Paul Ballard, the T’s president and chief executive officer.

Molly the Trolley, the downtown shuttle, will no longer be a free service starting Sunday. With yearly operating costs in the $1 million range, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority will now charge $2 per rider.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram