WESLACO, RGV – Rio Grande Valley leaders are hailing an enhanced alliance by the region’s four public transit authorities, saying their collaboration will lead to buses running more frequently.

Valley Metro, McAllen Metro, Brownsville Metro, and South Padre Island’s Island Metro, along with UT-Rio Grande Valley, are teaming up to promote RGV Metro Express, a service that will connect all the major cities in the Rio Grande Valley. RGV Metro Express will supersede another service the four transit authorities operated, Metro Connect.

By bringing in UTRGV and rebranding the program, the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council (LRGVDC), which administers Valley Metro, can access more funds from the Texas Department of Transportation.

As first reported in the Rio Grande Guardian back in June, marketing students at PSJA Southwest designed the new RGV Metro logo and marketing campaign.

“I am most proud of this RGV Metro Express because we built it for the needs of the Valley,” said Ron Garza, LRGVDC’s executive director. LRGVDC is the official council of government for Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties.

“All four metros and UTRGV came together to do this. I really want to highlight that story. Sometimes there were tough conversations, they were really needed but they were what’s best for the region,” Garza said.

Garza made his comments at last Wednesday’s LRGVDC board meeting. He said the efforts to get the four public transit authorities to work in an even closer fashion came about a year ago following a meeting he had with Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez.

Garza noted that, historically, the four transit providers would “compete for resources.” However, he said that after a year of almost monthly meetings, the providers were now working together. He thanked the transportation directors of the four transit authorities for their “huge time investment” and for bringing their transportation planners to the meetings.

“Now we have a partnership with UTRGV, so I consider UTRGV the fifth entity,” Garza said. “We sat down over the last year, almost every month, and dedicated a lot of time to it. We had some critical conversations sometimes, developing some trust, looking at the needs of transit riders in a regional system.”

The progress has been so impressive, Garza said, that a day after the next LRGVDC board meeting, in late September, TXDOT will be considering “a regional service to continue what was Metro Connect, and we will be transitioning to RGV Metro Express.”

Garza said Metro Connect would be rebranded as RGV Metro Express “because this is the express route to get across the Valley.” 

With the help of the Texas Department of Transportation there will be two years of additional funding, Garza said.

“We are committed to looking to sustainable models,” Garza said. “People do not care what color the buses are. They just need to get to work or school, or wherever they need to go.”

Garza and LRGVDC President David Suarez, the mayor of Weslaco, presented awards to Mario Delgado, director of transit and downtown services for McAllen Metro, Norma H. Zamora, transportation director for Brownsville Metro (accepted in her absence by Transit Operations Planner Tracie Orcillez), Jesse Arriaga, transit director for Island Metro, Rodney Gomez, director of parking and transportation services for UTRGV, and Tom Logan, executive director of Valley Metro.

Valley Metro perspective

The Rio Grande Guardian obtained an exclusive interview with Logan after the LRGVDC meeting had ended. Asked about the enhanced collaboration between Valley Metro, McAllen Metro, Brownsville Metro and Island Metro, Logan said:

“We want to create a complimentary service that will benefit all of us. Instead of us running similar services, now we are going to work together under one flag, which is the RGV Metro Express service, which will be connecting the main cities of the Valley. Everything else will be feeding into that trunk line.”

Tom Logan

Logan explained that four years ago the four public transit authorities joined forces to create Metro Connect. 

“Now, we are creating a bigger partnership by bringing in UTRGV, the COG (Council of Government) and other entities. We will be joining together to provide one service, as opposed to having multiple buses running the same alignment.”

Asked what the benefits will be, Logan said: “We will have more frequency. It will allow us to get more state services, and lower the individual contributions we (the transit authorities) have to make. It is a win-win for us and of course the public will benefit.”

Logan said students of and visitors to higher education institutions across the Valley would particularly benefit.

“The whole community will benefit from having access not only to the cities but also the campuses of UTRGV, STC, TSTC and hopefully TSC in Brownsville. It is a goal of ours to get the students to ride on this service and see the benefits of public transportation.”

STC stands for South Texas College. TSTC stands for Texas State Technical College. TSC stands for Texas Southmost College.

A reporter reminded Logan that the four transit authorities were not driving in the same direction when Valley Metro was working on legislation two year ago to secure more funds to expand bus routes into Valley colonias. Valley Metro’s bill failed to get through the Legislature. Some believe this was because there was not buy-in from some of the Valley’s other public transit groups.

Asked if all four transit authorities would be working together during the upcoming legislative session, Logan said: “That is a goal we do have. We definitely want to work together on this. We will be supporting any legislation that comes out.”

Precursor to Light Rail

Asked if the creation of RGV Metro Express is a precursor to light rail, a project championed by state Rep. Armando Martinez of Weslaco, Logan said: “We are letting the public know the benefits of having commuter buses going back and forth. As demand grows the system will need to grow itself. The path is, you start with buses, you get the bigger buses and then you start commuter rail. In essence, we are laying the foundation for what could be.”

Asked his view on light rail for the Valley, Logan said: “We see it across the nation and across the world: light rail is the foundation for any big metro and we are a metroplex here in the Valley. We are growing and we need to do the planning now for what is going to be needed in the near future.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows UT-Rio Grande Valley students boarding the Vaquero Express, a service provided by Valley Metro. (Photo: Monika Garza/The Rider)