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Saturday, April 10, 2021

New Transit Options: Train, circulator and Lyft services driving transportation changes

New transit options that have already pulled into the station and some that are on track for arrival will make it easier and more convenient to move around the Fort Worth area without a car.

Trinity Metro’s new TEXRail commuter train line between downtown Fort Worth and Dallas Fort Worth International Airport ended its first month of paid service on March 1 with 33,000 trips.

“We think that is pretty impressive for the first month to deliver that type of ridership,” said Paul Ballard, president and CEO of Trinity Metro, formerly known as The T. “We saw a lot of people going and coming from work, especially American Airlines employees.

“We also saw a lot of people with suitcases on the train,” he said of riders going to and from DFW Airport aboard the region’s first public transit option that connects directly with an airport terminal.

During TEXRail’s introductory period, rides were free and nearly 99,000 people climbed aboard to experience the state-of-the-art trains and the new service.

As part of its goal of 8,000 rider trips per day, Trinity Metro has ordered two more identical trains from Switzerland-based Stadler to expand service from hourly to every 20- to 25 minutes during peak commuting periods, Ballard said. Expanded service is expected to begin by early summer.

No firm date has been set for the kickoff of the expanded service.

Ballard said this is the last planned expansion of the $1 billion TEXRail project unless ridership grows beyond expectations. TEXRail is funded through local and federal funds.

“With commuter rail, you can’t do high frequency,” he said. “If ridership grows, we will have to look at bi-level cars like the Trinity Rail Express operates.”

TEXRail operates daily with service operating about 21 hours of each day.

Meanwhile, along with expansion of TEXRail, Trinity Metro is moving ahead with plans for The Dash, a circulator that connects downtown Fort Worth’s ITC TEXRail station with West 7th Street and the Cultural District.

Trinity Metro officials have created a route map, including options for downtown routes, ahead of the planned kickoff of service, currently set for September.

The transit agency has ordered four battery-powered buses from Minnesota-based New Flyer of America, the same firm that manufactures compressed natural gas buses for Trinity Metro’s fleet.

The Dash buses are being manufactured at New Flyer’s plant in Anniston, Alabama, at a cost of $837,600 each, with 80 percent of the cost coming from a federal grant through the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), Ballard said.

Trinity Metro received a $6.2 million matching grant to help pay for the service, which is estimated to cost about $1.4 million a year. Trinity Metro will pay about $1 million per year or about 75 percent of the annual operating cost, officials said.

The remaining amount of nearly $350,000 per year will come from other public and private contributors. The city of Fort Worth has already committed $150,000 per year, Ballard said.

Trinity Metro has firm commitments from Fort Worth Blue Zones, the Real Estate Council of Greater Fort Worth and Visit Fort Worth. Fundraising for the service is ongoing.

“There is a lot of support for this project,” said former Fort Worth Mayor Ken Barr, who has been involved with the grassroots effort to develop this project for about four years. “We hope this begins a movement to create circulator service in other busy areas of the city.

“This will be the first circulator to move out of downtown and connect different parts of the city,” Barr said.

The Dash will operate as a hop-on, hop-off service similar to Molly the Trolley in downtown Fort Worth.

The Dash has enthusiastic support for its ability to connect people, and especially visitors, from the train and downtown hotels to key cultural attractions via public transit. Fort Worth’s museums and the Dickies Arena, due to open late this year, will benefit from the service.

“There is also a safety factor,” Ballard said. “The Dash will operate on weekends, maybe until 2 a.m., to get people to and from the bars on West 7th safely.”

Traffic congestion on West 7th is problematic at other times as well. The service has the support the Blue Zones Project, a community health and wellness initiative, for being able to reduce vehicle traffic and make it safer for cyclists and pedestrians to maneuver around.

The University of North Texas Health Science Center, which is set to open a new medical school in conjunction with Texas Christian University this summer, will also be benefit from The Dash service.

“As a growing institution, helping our students and employees quickly get to and from our campus as well as the medical district and other key areas of the city is very important,” said Amy Buresh, senior director of the UNTHSC Office of Brand and Communication.

Besides The Dash service, Trinity Metro has made public transportation for college students a top priority.

Through a partnership between Trinity Metro and Tarrant County College, students can use their TCC student ID cards as transit passes for Trinity Metro buses, TEXRail and Trinity Railway Express trains. Transit options are available for all six TCC campuses.

Since the service began last May, TCC students have taken about 10,000 trips per month, Ballard said. Student ridership peaked in October with 14,000 trips.

“This is a huge step forward to help students without a car get to class,” Ballard said. “It’s working very, very well.”

Another new Trinity Metro service provides last-mile transportation in the Alliance corridor. The new ZIPZONE service replaces the pilot program, Alliance Link, which provided a similar last-mile link in the Alliance area. The pilot program ended in January.

ZIPZONE operates in conjunction with the North Texas Xpress, a bus that allows employees of the more than 500 companies in the Alliance Corridor to avoid driving to work. The bus provides direct, express service from downtown Fort Worth to Alliance. It then goes on to Denton, providing service to the University of North Texas campus. Trinity Metro plans to expand the service to other major employment centers.

To avoid a long walk from one of six bus stops in the Alliance area, riders can use the ZIPZONE on-demand service for a quick ride from Lyft to their worksites.

Bus passengers use the Lyft app and enter a code for their last-mile ride. Return trips operate the same way.

Trinity Metro received a two-year grant of $250,000 per year from the NCTCOG to continue and expand the last-mile service, officials said.

The service added 64 new riders during its first month of operation in February, officials said.

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