Arlington Finally Invents a Public Transit System Voters Can't Reject: A Single Bus Route

In 2002, Arlington voters considered a proposal to establish a public transit system. The system would have been funded through a modest quarter-cent sales-tax increase that had the support of the City Council and every major business group in town but not, as the News reported at the time, the Concerned Taxpayers of Arlington.

"There is no question about the fact that there is some need out there," the group's Bruce Deramus told the News at the time. "There are disabled, infirm and poor people who really need a way to get to work, for instance. But it does not have to be on this large of a scale, and this is the message we have tried to get out over and over again."

And so, for the third time in 22 years, voters rejected plans for public transportation in Arlington, cementing the city's status as the largest city in the country without a mass transit system.

That doesn't mean the need has gone away. It just means the city has had to scale back -- way back -- its ambitions and be more creative about paying for them. In October, the city and University of Texas at Arlington unveiled preliminary plans for a bus service connecting the Trinity Railway Express' CentrePort station to the college.

Jim Parejon, the city's community development and planning director, is quick to distinguish the current proposal from the city's previous stabs at public transportation.

"Those were citywide transit networks, and we're not talking about that here," he said. "What we're talking about is a very specific connection to existing regional infrastructure."

The limited scope has the obvious benefit of limiting cost, but it also means it won't require a public referendum, which past experience has proven isn't a winning proposition in Arlington. The City Council has already allocated $350,000 for the system, right at half of its expected annual cost. The other half will come from the private sector through a public-private partnership. The bus service would be run either by a private contractor or an existing transit agency (e.g. DART or The T in Fort Worth).

Parejon expects more specifics to be presented to the council in January or February, plenty of time to get the system up and running by the August 2013 target. Parejon said city officials are "very optimistic."