The Rio Grande Valley with its estimated population surging above 1.4 million is reflecting its new urban realities via Valley Metro. The regional bus system is adding transportation hubs and new routes with each passing year.
Later this month, Valley Metro will open a new hub in Edinburg between City Hall and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. The new hub will come off a year where Valley Metro saw its ride count of passengers reach one million.
The system now has three major hubs and will add a fourth in Harlingen in 2020. Twenty routes currently link Valley cities and transport passengers within communities. More than 50 buses are being utilized. Operating and maintaining what has become a major regional transportation system are 80 employees.
“We’re trying to build a system that you’d find in any contemporary urban area,” said Ron Garza, the executive director of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council. The council operates and manages Valley Metro.
The gleaming new Edinburg hub is the latest showpiece for a regional system whose growth has intensified in recent years. Funding from federal sources has increased and Valley cities are providing matching funds. A facility like this one is vital to growing its hub-and-spoke network.
“As the Valley grows and ridership grows, you need hubs to create more volume and frequency,” Garza said.
The new Edinburg facility’s proximity to UTRGV is indicative of how closely the university system has worked with Valley Metro. Together, they have transformed public transportation in the region. What was nonexistent across the Valley when it came to efficient and affordable bus systems now includes fleets of vehicles making their way daily throughout the region. Garza said UTRGV’s shuttle bus system between its campuses and medical school facilities in Edinburg, Harlingen and Brownsville redefines public transportation in the Valley.
He cites the coordination between UTRGV, Valley Metro and bus systems run by the cities of Brownsville, McAllen and South Padre in creating a seamless network of public transportation for riders. Valley Metro is doing so at inexpensive rates for passengers. Valley Metro offers free fares for most of its routes save for longer ones with minimal stops.
Garza sees a next step in transitioning to one mobile app and a unified website. They will offer information and access about all of the bus transportation systems across the Valley. Garza looks to continuing to build the network of public transportation in the region. He also hopes to grow the list of partnerships to include school districts and Texas State Technical College.
And long-term, Garza aspires for a development that would really be indicative of major urban areas in the United States. Light rail, he said, is a goal in the distance to someday be reached in the Valley.
“I think 2020 is going to be an exciting year,” he said. “We’re growing by leaps and bounds.”