WESLACO, RGV – Valley Metro says securing a rider in the state appropriations bill could lead to a doubling of ridership on its buses.

State Rep. Sergio Muñoz, D-Mission.
State Rep. Sergio Muñoz, D-Mission.

The public transit group’s No. 1 legislative issue this session is not passage of a bill but insertion of a rider in House Bill 1 that would result in its annual budget being twice what it is today.

Currently, Valley Metro, which is administered by the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, has an annual budget of about $2 million. Valley Metro Executive Director Tom Logan is hoping state Rep. Sergio Muñoz can secure an additional $2 million through the appropriations process. Muñoz, D-Mission, is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

“There is no doubt this is our No. 1 legislative issue this session. We are hopeful Rep. Muñoz can secure the additional $2 million for us. It would double our funding. It is huge,” Logan told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“It is a rider for $2 million per year to extend the level of service for our current system, plus adding more services to colonias and rural areas. It will also give us the money to add more services to inter-connect all the campuses of the universities and colleges in region, such as South Texas College in McAllen, UT-Pan American in Edinburg, Texas State Technical College in Harlingen, UT-Brownsville and Texas Southmost in Brownsville.”

Valley Metro services Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy County. A partnership with Rainbow Lines in Starr County connects Starr County residents to the urbanized areas of Hidalgo County.

Providing bus routes into the Valley’s largest colonias has been a goal of Logan’s for a number of years. However, up until now he has not had the funding to do it.

“Serving the colonias has always been one of our target areas. If we get the additional $2 million we will be able to launch smaller buses for a demand-response or car-sharing program. We want to get very creative with this funding and make sure we address the needs of colonia residents.”

Asked which colonias might get a bus route, should Rep. Muñoz secure the funding, Logan said: “We are looking at the bigger colonia areas in Hidalgo County – the ones with 500 or over homes or maybe 250-plus homes, such as those in Alton, Little Mexico and Tower. They do not have a direct service and we see the need for a direct service to those areas and linking it to the main routes.”

Providing a bus route into the colonias does not just help residents get to work. It also mothers to get to large supermarkets with a full array of fresh fruit and vegetables. Reporter Eli Saslow won awards for his coverage in the Washington Post of the Rio Grande Valley’s “food deserts.” His big feature was called “Too much of too little. A diet fueled by food stamps is making South Texans obese but leaving them hungry.”

Tom Logan is executive director of Valley Metro.
Tom Logan is executive director of Valley Metro.

Logan said providing a bus service will allow colonia parents to make it to a supermarket, and not have to rely on convenience stores, corner shops or mini marts for their groceries. “We will give them that bridge to get to those locations so they buy their groceries at the bigger establishments, the establishments they do not have in the colonias.”

Logan added that he is still hopeful of taking up an offer to visit El Paso to see that city’s Sun Metro bus service. He said he and his staff would learn a lot. “Sun Metro is launching services that we are still planning and hoping for. Once we can see what they are doing and what the potential is, I know we will get the momentum to press on make sure we get those kinds of projects in the Valley.”