By Michael Bennett
Have you driven in Austin traffic? What about Houston? Not just at rush hour, but anytime? It’s a challenge, negatively impacts quality of life and results in enormous productivity loss. And the younger generations, those who will soon be leading our community and creating good jobs, are clear in their desire for convenient and efficient mobility options. For them, a community that doesn’t move is a community that doesn’t live right.
Fort Worth and Tarrant County are not Austin and Houston, for now. But our explosive population growth could easily cause our automobile traffic to mirror those cities, and sooner than one might think. How can we escape the traffic nightmare that befalls Austin and Houston?
Our opportunity to ensure there are effective mobility options for future generations (think millennials who demand convenience and believe the best car is a parked car or an Uber car) has arrived. The Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T) Master Plan Recommendation Report (www.tmasterplan.org) provides a path to efficient local mobility.
The Master Plan is a thoughtful, straight-forward document that bluntly assesses missed opportunities of the past, the challenges of the future (which are somewhat intimidating) and the path to a more mobile and easy-to-navigate Fort Worth and Tarrant County.
Where are we today? The T has the lowest per capita ridership, the fewest hours of annual service per capita and the lowest operating funding per capita of any major transportation authority in Texas. And it’s not even close. We are squarely in last place. There is some good news. The T has the second lowest operating cost per service hour compared to the largest authorities; $15 per hour less than Austin and $23 less than Houston. And for the best news of all, The T has an executive director who has deep experience in mobility and a proven history of efficiently maximizing revenue to expand services. Combine his leadership with a top-notch executive staff and a board of directors led by a successful business owner, and you have a team in place to change the face of mobility in Tarrant County.
Where are we headed tomorrow? The Master Plan is ambitious. It addresses our short- and long-term mobility needs. It acknowledges and even embraces the desires and lifestyles of younger generations. The Plan calls for more convenient and strategic park-and-ride lots, expanded express and regional services, developing outlying transit centers and developing comprehensive premium services, which will include commuter rail, rapid bus, streetcar and core area shuttles. The Plan is ultimately based on two key principles: The mobility system The T puts in place should “reflect local desires” and should be funded in part by developing “alternative funding approaches.” In other words, The T will listen and will work with the private sector to maximize funding opportunities.
The Real Estate Council of Greater Fort Worth (commercial development professionals and those who serve the development profession) has spent countless hours studying the mobility challenges of Tarrant County. We believe the future of mobility in our community starts now, with this Master Plan. We will continue to work with The T and others to ensure Tarrant County doesn’t become the gridlocked mess of Austin or Houston. In fact, we hope to lead a group of business leaders in forming a support organization to assist The T in reaching the aggressive goals it has set for the next twenty years. The time has come. We will be at the table. Please join us.