Eighteen months ago the Student Planning Association proposed two long-term initiatives on which it solicited participation from the UTA community. The first of these projects resulted in the creation of what is thought to be the first green roof in North Texas. While still in its experimental stages, the 1000 square-foot installation on the roof of Life Science Building elicited the ongoing participation of a large number of University students, faculty, and staff; the donation of a significant amount of time and materials from private sector companies and University administration; and, most importantly, the interest of the entire Metroplex community. Apart from its obvious utility as a testbed for green roof technologies and the survivability of various plant species in the changeable North Texas climate, the project received extensive regional media coverage and contributed to the growing interest of the entire North Texas community in ecological sustainability.
The second initiative (https://mavspace.uta.edu/klh3396/UTA%20Transit%20Initiative/) has yet to receive much focused attention or energy, though a significant amount of thought and planning has been invested in it. Given the recent creation of a small Park-and-Ride link between Arlington and Fort Worth, the increasing seriousness of congestion problems in Arlington and, specifically, around the University, and the rapidly escalating enthusiasm among members of the University community for more serious action by UTA administration on mobility issues, it seems an appropriate time to reintroduce this initiative. It’s time may well have come.
In light of the mobility needs of its students, the increasing congestion and pollution associated with University student, faculty, and staff commuting, and the continuing resistance of the City of Arlington to offer a plan of its own that is commensurate to present challenges, the Student Planning Association proposes that UTA develop a transit system serving the University (and possibly other) campuses from throughout the Metroplex. Modeled on the system that current serves the University of Texas at Austin campus and community, the UTA transit network would be bus- and van-based linking to existing transit networks throughout Tarrant, Dallas, and, possibly, Denton counties. The University would would work with the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T), Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), and, possibly, the Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA) to integrate service to the University (and, potentially, other) campuses into their current route structure. UTA would work with the City of Arlington and surrounding communities to enable these organizations to operate within their jurisdictional limits.
Transit vehicles and their support infrastructures would be provided by the aforementioned transportation authorities; UTA (and other possible system partners) would provide terminal infrastructure and financing for the extension and funding of the existing transit networks. Preliminary and informal conversations with transit authority representatives indicate that such an arrangement would be possible provided that political and financial accommodations are made among the participating system partners. (NOTE: These conversations were purely speculative and not sanctioned by UTA or any other potential stakeholder.) A secure and scalable funding model for the shuttle is essential to its success. Of the several models proposed in our discussions, the most attractive and sustainable may be the imposition of a general transit fee for all UTA students. At the same time, the University should implement a set of driving disincentives, including a moratorium on creating new vehicle parking capacity (even as it builds on existing lots) and raising parking fees. Actions such as these should be taken in a way that makes use of the shuttle more attractive than driving.
Insofar as UTA draws as many as 25,000 student, faculty, and staff commuters from throughout the North Texas region, one of the significant advantages of the proposed shuttle system is that it would systematically address mobility, congestion, and air quality issues common throughout the Metroplex. It may also provide Arlington and other area communities that currently lack transit service the opportunity to piggyback onto the network in providing transit services for their citizens. In addition to pursuing this initiative in cooperation with the transit suppliers, UTA administration should work closely with North Central Texas Council of Governments transportation staff to ensure that the system integrates into and supports long-term transit plans for our region.
UTA should capitalize on the momentum generated by the President’s Sustainability Committee and formally request a proposal for a transit system that truly meets the mobility needs of our university and our region. The consequences of continued inaction are just too high to pretend that business-as-usual will result in anything except more congestion and more pollution. Neither are in the best interests of UTA, the City of Arlington, or the North Texas region.