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Engaging Our Community in Public Transit's Future; How Fort Worth Is Planning Forward by Advocating Today
BY PAUL J BALLARD
President/Chief Executive Officer
Fort Worth Transportation Authority
When we considered our level of service and the many ways we could expand and improve, we knew it was time for a master plan that would reach far into the future, but also have an immediate impact. Guided by the Fort Worth Transportation Authority’s Board of Directors and senior leadership, our Transit Master Plan focuses on the next five years and challenges others to join us in changing the future of public transit in Fort Worth and Tarrant County. The plan presents an opportunity to create an inviting transit system that will offer more places for more people—and more possibilities.
The Challenge of Funding
As with many transit projects, the biggest challenge is funding. With a half-cent in sales tax revenue, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority would not be able to expand services based on current funding.
Looking at what we couldn’t do wasn’t an option. We looked to the future with a realistic view to how we could meet the needs of a county population projected to grow from 1.8 million to 2.6 million by 2040.
But how can we generate revenue? Working closely with our board of directors, we have developed a plan that will rely on civic and community involvement. We are spreading the word through media outlets, social media, public presentations and individual meetings with elected officials and other key leaders.
To help spark interest, we have started an advocacy group, Tarrant Transit Alliance, which will give participants the opportunity to be involved and truly have an impact on the future of transit in Tarrant County. We will look to these advocates to develop support for components of the plan, to use their networks of resources to advance transit projects and to share information with the community about public transit and its economic impact.
Customizing options is another way we are building toward successful execution of our plan. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, we are offering interested parties the chance to communicate with us about their specific needs and then we can tailor a package for them.
How the Plan Emerged
Active community involvement played a big role in the planning process. Developing a master plan requires extensive input from the community, so we spent a year doing just that. We gathered feedback through focus groups, transit surveys, town halls—and Twitter town halls. We even had a Transit Master Plan project bus equipped with laptops so visitors could hop on board and provide their suggestions. We took the bus (and its opportunity for meaningful communication) to the people.
With our limited funding, services had not expanded over the last three decades. We knew it was time for change—and a major upgrade in bus and rail services.
With a focus on the next five years, the Transit Master Plan presents an opportunity to create an inviting transit system that will offer more places for more people—and more possibilities.
A succinct overview focuses on 10 main objectives:
* Improve existing service and expand service to new areas;
* Develop a Frequent Transit Network;
* Develop premium services, such as more rail and better bus services;
* Develop outlying transit centers;
* Improve and expand express and regional services;
* Provide better passenger facilities and improve access to transit;
* Shorten the distance between transit stops and destinations;
* Develop more conveniently located park-and-ride lots;
* Provide better real-time information for trolley, bus and rail passengers; and
* Create unified branding to include bus service, Trinity Railway Express commuter rail and TEX Rail.
The goals of the plan are to provide compelling and competitive transit service to help make Fort Worth and Tarrant County more livable and to support continued economic growth.
New Service Developments
One of our biggest projects is TEX Rail, a commuter train that will travel a 27-mile route from downtown Fort Worth to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport’s Terminal B. Eight Stadler diesel multiple unit vehicles are being manufactured now and service will begin in late 2018.
To provide better transit information for our riders, we recently unveiled our NextBus app, which offers real-time information for our buses and downtown trolleys. Platform displays at our train stations provide real-time information for our Trinity Railway Express trains between Fort Worth and Dallas.
Many other projects are already in the works, including new park-and-ride facilities and redesigned maps and schedules that are easier to understand.
For more details about the Fort Worth Transportation Authority’s master plan, click here.
“Commentary” features points of view from various sources to enhance readers’ broad awareness of themes that affect public transportation.