Bud Kennedy

Here’s how the wheels came off Fort Worth’s plan for better transit

Council member Cary Moon’s seat remained empty Friday, preventing a City Council majority from approving more money for city bus service.
Council member Cary Moon’s seat remained empty Friday, preventing a City Council majority from approving more money for city bus service.

Plans to add $2.8 million in city bus service stalled last week, and City Council appeared to be asleep at the wheel.

Raising taxes even only $7 extra per year for a smidgen more public transit led to a complete mechanical breakdown at City Hall, and Councilman Cary Moon intentionally blocked a plan that had been on wobbly wheels from the start.

One day after Moon no-showed a budget hearing, killing a council quorum and the plan — he chose to stand outside City Hall doing TV interviews — Moon told a neighborhood forum Saturday he instead wants a countywide election on $1.2 billion for regional rail.

“We need a mass transit system that will attract corporate headquarters like Amazon, and that doesn’t rely on buses,” Moon said, saying he skipped the public hearing because the proposal came late and only improved bus service for west Fort Worth, which is not his district.

But the proposal was a small second step in a long-range transit plan that would eventually include a regionwide rail network. Fort Worth and Tarrant County offer less than half the bus and rail service of Austin, San Antonio or other comparable metropolitan areas.

The first step in April added bus service to far north Fort Worth. That included Route 11 to Moon’s own Heritage neigborhood.

When he dodged the budget hearing, he effectively blocked extra City Hall funding for the same expanded bus service in anyone else’s neighborhood.

Speaking to Eastern Hills residents Saturday, Moon criticized the proposal as “last-minute” at the annual deadline to set a tax rate. He said backers were trying to “circumvent the public process” with a belated proposal.

Council members had voted 6-1 to schedule rushed hearings on whether to spend up to $5.7 million on bus service. A majority seemed to have settled on $2.8 million.

But it didn’t matter what the majority wanted.

South side council member Ann Zadeh, who pushed for the extra spending, said she knew days ago that some supporters would miss the public hearing. But she thought either Moon or opponent Jungus Jordan would attend to complete a quorum for discussion.

(Jordan has given no explanation for his absence.)

“It was only a public hearing — a conversation — it wasn’t even a vote,” Zadeh said Saturday.

“I’m just really disappointed. I think what we were working on would have had the support of a majority of the council.”

At the east side forum, Moon muddled the debate by saying city leaders can attract companies like Amazon with a big regional rail plan, not a few million here and there for city buses.

“If we’re going to spend money on public transportation,” he said, “we need to do it correctly.”

But he also stoked old crosstown hostilities, saying the added bus service was for the “west side”: “Why not bring a bus route to east Fort Worth?”

(East and south bus service expansions are next in the plan.)

Moon said he plans to start working on a countywide transit tax election, and also for a citywide vote on moving part of Fort Worth’s half-cent “crimefighting” sales tax to transit. That would basically shift more police costs to the regular budget.

Zadeh said she welcomes any support for transit, but wonders about a countywide vote.

“As a resident of Fort Worth, I’d like to see our service be as robust as we can make it, and I don’t want to dilute that with too many member cities,” she said.

Moon said he wants to talk with city and business leaders next week.

Why should anyone show up to listen?

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, @BudKennedy.