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Dallas: DART Needs Fare Overhaul

Commentary by Edson L. Tennyson, P.E. – February 2003

NOTE: in March 2003, after the publication of this commentary, DART raised fares to: $1.25 base (one-way); $2.50 local day pass; and $4.50 premium (regional) day pass.

In recent months, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) has been facing some severe financial problems. According to the Dallas Morning News of September 17th, 2002,

A plunge in sales tax revenue left DART with an $80 million projected shortfall as the agency expands to include rail service to Garland and Plano. That combination forced the transit agency to slash its expenses and rework its schedule of upcoming capital projects.

DART has had to recommend a series of cutbacks to balance its $305 million operating budget in the face of an expected shortfall. Among some of the measures are an increase in the cost of tickets and passes; leaving over a hundred jobs unfilled and eliminating up to 30 jobs; increasing the headway between trains and reducing the number of vehicles used per train in off-peak hours to save on maintenance and electricity.

Unfortunately, DART does not fully understand its problem. They had better learn fast.

With strong new rail lines to Garland and Plano, they are no longer just a city transit system. They are now a commuter rail system, with passengers making much longer trips.

Mileage costs money. Without mileage-based fares, the system will destroy itself financially, just as Atlanta is doing. Once the average ride gets longer than about six miles, zone fares are a necessity to avoid financial catastrophe.

DART cannot overcharge its close-in riders to over-subsidize its Plano, Richardson, and Garland passengers. A 12-mile ride should cost $1.50 and an 18-mile ride $2.00 – just like express bus fare, but only beyond Park Lane.

The Trinity Railway Express must charge at least $5.00 to Fort Worth. Notice the Fort Worth "T" transit service is also in budget trouble because of Trinity Railway Express. It is not the high cost of the train, it is the much longer distance travelled.

It may cost $9.00 per car mile to move the train. Miles cost money. The taxpayer cannot bear it all. Transit officials must learn to act more like private business people.

Today's extreme highway subsidies justify healthy transit subsidies, but there is a limit. 18 miles for a "city fare" is outrageous.

Light Rail Now! website
Updated 2006/03/20

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