SAN JUAN, RGV – The RGV Equal Voice Network has thrown its weight behind Valley Metro’s efforts to secure an additional $2 million to expand its bus services between Valley colleges and universities and into the larger colonias.

The group has started a petition to secure thousands of signatures to show the Rio Grande Valley’s support for Valley Metro’s No. 1 legislative agenda item.

RGV Equal Voice leader Amber Arriaga-Salinas
RGV Equal Voice leader Amber Arriaga-Salinas

“The RGV Equal Voice Network believes that there is a great need for public transportation in our region. We serve so many families that live in rural areas and struggle with getting to work, school or even doctor’s appointments because they do not have safe and reliable transportation and this initiative will finally give some of our larger rural populations that option,” said RGV Equal Voice leader Amber Arriaga-Salinas.

As first reported in the Rio Grande Guardian, Valley Metro has asked state Rep. Sergio Muñoz, a member of the House Committee on Appropriations, to champion their cause at the state Capitol.

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

“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 earlier this month.

“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 executive director Tom Logan
Valley Metro executive director Tom Logan

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.

Asked why Valley Metro’s legislative request is important, Equal Voice’s Arriaga-Salinas said: “Valley Metro’s current services are an amazing asset for the community; the college/university expansion brings us, especially families in rural areas one step closer to developing a full scale regional transportation system.

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,” Logan said.

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.”

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.”

Equal Voice’s Arriaga-Salinas was asked for her view on Valley Metro’s plan to expand bus services into the Valley’s colonias, should its funding request be successful.

“I believe some of the new stops will be in large colonia areas in all four precincts. Some of those areas include Indian Hills, South Tower, South Mission, Alton and Progreso. When I think back to the time I attended Pan Am, I know there were students who didn’t have a car, whose families shared one car or who didn’t have enough gas money to make it to class; this pilot program could change that and give students the opportunity to get to where they need to be.”

The RGV Equal Voice Network’s petition in English is titled: Petition to Support the 84th Legislature RGV College/University Transportation System.

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

The petition states:

The Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network is supporting the LRGVDC’s (Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council) proposal for an RGV College/University Transportation Program. This program would provide safe and reliable public transportation for students and families in rural areas in Starr, Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy Counties.

The LRGVDC is requesting $4,000,000 in state funds for the project that will result in a regional system to connect all higher education institutions in the region. The expansion of Valley Metro’s current transit sytem to extend services between and among campuses including South Texas College, Texas Southmost College, Texas State Technical College and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

The RGV Equal Voice Network’s petition is also available in Spanish. Its title is: Petición de Apoyo a la Legislatura 84 para Sistema de Transporte Universitario para el RGV.

The petition states:

La Red de Voces Unidas está apoyando la propuesta del LRGVDC para un programa de una sisteme de transporte de Universidades/Colegios del Valle. Este programa proporcionaría transporte público para los estudiantes y sus familias en las zonas rurales de los condados de Starr, Hidalgo, Cameron y Willacy.

El LRGVDC solicita 4.000.000 dólares en fondos estatales para el proyecto que se traducirá en un sistema regional para conectar todas las instituciones universitarios en la región. La expansión del sistema de transporte actual de Valley Metro va a extender los servicios entre y dentro de los campus como South Texas College, Texas Southmost College, Texas State Technical College y la Universidad de Valle del Río Grande de Texas.

To sign the petition or for more information go to: https://www.facebook.com/rgvequalvoice.