Arlington is one of the largest cities in the U.S. without an effective mass transit system. Yes, you read that right. One of the largest in not just Texas, but the whole United States.
In order to truly become the “American Dream City” we claim to be, Arlington must right this blatant wrong.
Arlington has become a city of nearly 400,000 people, and still has no mass transit. American attitudes towards mass transit play a part in Arlington’s current dilemma. According to Joseph Stromberg from Vox, American public and mass transit suffers because it is a commonly held view in the U.S. that public and mass transit is a form of government welfare for poorer people who cannot afford cars.
Americans also believe that welfare will cost taxpayer dollars, and there is an aversion to taxes baked into the American psyche. When you mix all of these things together, American beliefs create a hostile situation for mass transit in the U.S.
It is apparent these notions have greatly influenced Arlington, as Arlington voters have shot down mass transit several times in the past, most recently in 2002.
However, we also haven’t voted on mass transportation in nearly two decades. Arlington has changed greatly since then and become much larger. People who were born just before the 2002 elections would have been old enough to vote on mass transportation this year if we had held a vote on it during the last election cycle. Given the amount of time that has passed, perhaps it is time for a new referendum on mass transportation.
With the rise of the Via rideshare service, it could be argued that Arlington already has a public transportation system. While it is true that the Via service is being expanded to include all of Arlington next year, it is not a large enough system to satisfy the city’s public transportation needs. The vehicles utilized by the Via service only seat a max of six passengers at time, and as of 2020, the Via fleet is only 28 cars strong. This means at max capacity the Via service can only transport 168 people at a time in a city of nearly 400,000. This is not mass transportation, and it barely registers as public transportation. Via may be a baby step in the right direction, but we need to take it further.
Arlingtonites need to stop viewing public transportation as a form of welfare and need to start seeing it as a necessary public utility, much like electricity and water services. The city government must invest in a citywide, quality mass transit system, produced through a public-private partnership. This mass transit system could then charge fair rates for its services and make money in its own right, so that it need not be funded exclusively by taxpayer dollars. Poorer people who cannot afford the standard rates can be charged a discounted rate if their need is proven.
Some may also point out that Arlington did in fact experiment with a now discontinued bus system. From 2013 to 2017, Arlington had the MAX bus service, which suffered from low ridership. However, where the MAX service failed was in its coverage. The bus system only had four stops and did not cover the whole city.
In order to be effective, a mass transit system must serve all of Arlington and be accessible to all Arlingtonites, not just the downtown area.
Instituting such a system will have a variety of benefits for the city. Public transportation is safer than driving, resulting in less transportation-involved deaths. It also provides more options for people who can’t drive, don’t want to drive or simply don’t feel like driving that day. There would be environmental benefits, as fewer cars on the road means less pollution. Fewer cars on the road also means less traffic, even benefiting those who choose not to use public transportation.
“The American Dream City” must do more on the public transportation front in order to ensure living in Arlington is truly a dream for its residents. By taking further steps in the right direction, we can create an efficient and quality mass transit system that would ensure an increased quality of life for all Arlingtonites.