The City of Brownsville, TX created a regional transportation hub to provide residents and visitors with seamless travel across the Southern Rio Grande Valley as well as into Mexico. Brownsville lies in the southern tip of the State of Texas, bordered by the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, South Padre Island, and the Gulf of Mexico.
Following the example of neighboring city McAllen, the City of Brownsville wanted to invest in a regional transportation center to better allow residents to access all of the resources in the city. In building the terminal, the City wanted to ensure that the initiative taken best served the needs expressed by those in the community.
In describing the transportation hub, Director of Brownsville Metro Norma Zamora offered the following, “The terminal is a two-story 26,000 square foot facility that houses Raza metro. The facility handles regional and local bus companies. It also works with valley metro and other taxi companies, all of which feed into the complex from other services. The terminal houses 17 International bus routes with three layovers. It also has 12 bus banks for Raza metro with 2 layovers. In addition, there is 12,000 square ft. available for retail, with inside space dedicated for vendors.”
Prior to the creation of this hub, various forms of transportation were spread throughout the City, which made accessing them difficult for residents. The lack of organization led to inconvenience and disconnect between residents and the transportation providers, which led to the available services being underutilized.
“Multiple operators were based out of a 3-block area,” Norma says. “We noticed that our passengers were confused on how to travel regionally and internationally. By making the environment safer and more aesthetically pleasing, we were able to accommodate the needs of the passengers into one terminal.”
When discussing potential sites to consolidate the transportation hub, the City hired a team of consultants to identify potential locations. The consultants identified sixteen potential locations for the regional transportation hub to be constructed – none of which were selected as the final location. Instead, it was the location recommended at a community planning meeting by one of the key stakeholders and member of a group who stood to benefit the most from the consolidation: a citizen. The final selected location was on the Northwestern side of the University of Texas at Brownsville, an area with a high volume of individuals whom utilize the services
Beyond this, what else makes the transportation center so innovative? The funding for the facility comes from many sources that generate revenue from its patrons: – private food and entertainment vendors who operate out of the facility and taxi transportation companies. But one main benefit of the transportation center is that provides a singular, primary location to utilize various means of transit allowing passengers the convenience to commute freely in the most efficient means.
“The transportation center is innovative because it has never been done before. Two cities have never been able to consolidate and market their regional travel collaboratively to improve and regionalize transportation in the Rio Grande Valley, while also helping facilitate international travel across the border at an affordable rate. It also established transit partners and relationships across the region to get travelers where they need in an affordable and timely manner. Combining our service with that of McAllen provides a unique international regional transportation system[A1] ,” said Ms. Zamora.
Under minimal marketing, ridership figures amounted to 120,000 in the first month of service. With increased marketing of all of the modes of transportation and available routes, the City hopes to increase this number.
Additionally, Ms. Zamora highlighted that with the merger of the University of Texas at Brownsville locations, the City is working to make the service more accessible to students.
When asked about challenges to implementing the transportation hub specific to Brownsville, she explained the need to counter the negative perceptions of the system. “We have to work to publicize the safety of the system and the region. We are at 60% occupancy of the retail space. We are also at 90% occupancy of the counter space for the bus line routes. All of these are growing. Every year we are adding new services and partners”
Looking forward, Brownsville Metro looks to expand and enhance the partnerships it has throughout the region. Despite its accessibility through various routes, not all residents have access to the services of Brownsville, so the city would like to continue to connect with as broad of a group of the citizenry as possible. With the revitalizations of downtown Brownsville, there is hope that more citizens will have the opportunity to use the transportation to engage with and explore the diverse culture of the City.
When asked about what other communities can learn from Brownsville, Ms. Zamora recommends that “stressing community participation and the use of a public private partnership is critical. Holding a meeting early on to have the buy in from the community to generate support and engaging the community will build the foundation for a successful program.” Having residents involved early on is key so that there can be more of an assurance that the transportation program directly serves the expressed needs of community residents.
While the city of Brownsville has seen early returns on their multi-modal transportation center and regional transit system, they hope to continue to expand and broaden their ridership. Moreover, they hope to continue to build on the positive image they have cultivated and the resources their community needs to be successful. To learn more visit http://www.cob.us/.