DART's CFO and Linda Koop Talk About How Streetcars Will Be Funded and When They'll Operate (Weekdays Only, Unless ...)

So. David Leininger, Dallas Area Rapid Transit's chief financial officer, and council member Linda Koop just called to talk -- what else? -- streetcars, on both the DART board and city council's to-do lists tonight and tomorrow. And Leininger made it very clear: While rider revenues for the next few decades are expected to run at a deficit, the streetcar line from Union Station to near Methodist Hospital will be "heavily subsidized," and, as a result, by as late as 2039, DART and the city of Dallas and the North Central Texas Council of Governments expect there to be as much as $6.39 million left in the reserves.

"After 30 years," Leininger says, "come back and talk to me, and we'll discuss where the money's going to come from."

Till then, he says, the operations will be "fully covered by a combination of income" from several sources -- not just the $22 million being shifted from the Love Field People Mover, but $1.5 million annually from the Oak Cliff Gateway TIF District, the Downtown Dallas Improvement District and "a portion of Downtown Dallas and Oak Cliff parking revenues," per DART's docs. He also says "there will be a modest amount of advertising revenue -- in-car billboards or streetcar wraps, based on DART's experience for what people will pay for eyeball exposure, and that's a limited number."

Says Leininger, DART's pitching in $22 mil from that Green Line-to-Love Field line, with $9 million going to fund the cars themselves. "The balance," he says, "will go into financial reserves, which will be drawn down over time and cover everything from labor costs to vehicle servicing and electric costs -- everything associated with running the streetcars." Says the CFO, "the operating cost is really about $500,000 a year with some periodic costs every eight to 10 years that will run around $700,000 or $800,000 -- the so-called 'mid-life overhauls' of the cars and the line."

Says Koop, the money on hand will be "sufficient to fully cover the full obligation up till 2039."

Now, about those operating hours ...

As has been said here many, many times before: The Union Station-to-Oak Cliff line is considered the "starter line," the spine of a much larger expansion planned ... well, whenever there are funds enough to cover it. As Koop says, the next phase of the streetcar project will extend from Bishop Arts on the Oak Cliff side all the way to Pearl Street downtown and the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority's trolleys, themselves a recipient of a $4.9 million federal Urban Connector grant.

"We did drive that route the other day," says Koop, referring to yesterday's meeting of the council's Transportation and Environment Committee, "so everyone got an idea of the potential along the way.

When that'll happen is anyone's guess. But Leininger's fond of the start-small approach: "It's very fortuitous," he says. "There are a lot of things people don't know about these new-technology streetcars, and it's not bad to do a shakedown" before launching a large-scale expansion.

And, he and Koop remind, not everything's yet set in stone -- not even operation hours. Because, yes, Koop says that right now, the streetcars are only scheduled to run during weekdays. "But that could change as we move through the documents," she says, noting that the hours were set to coincide with shift changes at Methodist Hospital.

"It would be fairly easy to [add weekends] if ithere's a ridership demand that justified additional ridership hours," DART's CFO adds. "It wouldn't surprise me that once in operation, there's some additional incentive to cover that from the property owners at that end of rthe world. We just need to get it all sorted out."

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