HARLINGEN — Ridership is looking up for Valley Metro and is expected to nearly double this fiscal year, the same time the bus system is expanding services.
One of those is the new Route 45 – Cameron Career Connection, which connects Harlingen, San Benito, Los Fresnos and Brownsville five days a week.
The route links Texas State Technical College-Harlingen and the University of Texas at Brownsville.
In 2011, Harlingen ridership on Valley Metro was a little more than 27,000 people with 2,006 of them being students.
Maribel Contreras, a planner with the Lower Rio Grande Development Council, said overall ridership in Harlingen was expected to nearly double in the fiscal year 2012 to more than 46,000 riders. However, student ridership was expected to rise by only a few hundred.
Valley Metro Director Tom Logan said while the bus system is targeting students, they don’t make up a significant part of the system’s ridership. But he wants college students to know that there are public transit opportunities that connect the Rio Grande Valley.
"We know that we can make a difference and we do want to tell them transit is available and they can use it to get around, not only to campus, but to downtown McAllen and Brownsville," Logan said of Valley Metro’s routes.
The new Route 45 will operate Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. It’s free to ride until March 31 and started service on Jan. 3.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be at 10 a.m. Jan. 19 in Los Fresnos at Los Fresnos Memorial Park.
Seven partners that finance the route include TSTC, UTB, the Los Fresnos school district, the city of Los Fresnos, United Way, Workforce Solutions and Cameron County.
TSTC and UTB are at the west and east ends of the route that has stops at the Valley Transit Co. station in Harlingen, San Benito City Hall, Los Fresnos City Hall, Los Fresnos Memorial Park, the Brownsville Multimodal Terminal and UTB.
In addition to the new route, Valley Metro’s fleet was bolstered with seven new buses that were funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for a cost of approximately $126,000, Logan said.
The new buses feature digital information signs, bike racks, comfortable seating, wheelchair lifts and on-board cameras.
"The new buses represent an opportunity to improve the quality of the customer riding experience," Contreras said in an email. "It also allows us to replace an aging fleet. They will replace buses that have gone beyond their useful life (3-5 years)."
Service in Harlingen and San Benito began in 1999, but there is no data on ridership. In 2007, ridership was a little more than 3,600 on a flexible route system that had one bus.
As of fiscal year 2012, Valley Metro will have six routes in the area that is serviced by seven buses.
But the addition of Route 45 puts into place the last part of a regional plan from 2007.
"It was recommended in our regional plan from 2007 and we managed, this year, to put everything into place," Logan said. "So now we can say we have seamless public transportation across the Valley."
It costs $1.50 for adults to ride, 75 cents for students, the elderly, disabled persons and for veterans. Transfers are free and children under 7, as well as students from the University of Texas-Pan American, ride free with an official identification card.
For more information, call (800) 574-8322.