The Dallas Area Rapid Transit board officially signed off on a fare increase earlier this week, bringing its prices in line with the nation's most robust transit systems. The new fare structure, initially proposed last spring and effective Aug. 1, raises the price of most fares by 20 percent but caps the potential monthly transit expenses of riders who use DART's phone app or its refillable payment cards, which are set to debut later this year.
The get-on price for bus rides under the new structure is $2.50, same as it is now, but there's a catch. While $2.50 gets a rider a two-hour pass now, it will only buy one ride in August. Taking a trip that requires more than one bus, a bus and train, or DART's notorious bus-train-bus combination will cost a minimum of $3 during peak hours, the price of DART's new a.m. or p.m. pass.
Day passes, now $5, will go up to $6. Those willing to travel outside rush hour will still get a big discount, but a midday pass, good from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. will cost $2 instead of $1.75. It's worth noting, too, that $2.50 single rides are only available on buses; getting on a light-rail train during the morning or evening commute will cost at least $3.
DART staff proposed the increase for a couple of reasons. First, Texas law requires that any transit system within the state take in rider fares sufficient to make sure it can cover its expenses. DART also has to raise fares in order to keep up with its 20-year plan, which calls for increases in rider revenue of 17 percent every five years. The 20-percent fare bump, the first for the agency since 2012, combined with an anticipated 3-percent dip in ridership when the fares go into effect, covers that nut, according to a presentation by Joe Costello, DART's senior vice president of finance, to the agency's board last February.
With the increase, a ride on DART's light-rail system will cost more than a ride, with included transfers, on the New York subway ($2.75), an "L" train in Chicago ($2.50) or the Boston subway ($2.25). Each of those systems runs considerably later than DART — New York City and Chicago trains run 24 hours a day while the Boston subway stops running at 2:30 a.m. DART cuts off service shortly after midnight and provides, in most cases, quicker point-to-point service, thanks to greater train coverage.
Local 31-day passes on Austin's Capital Metro bus system, which includes service until almost 4 a.m., costs just $41.25, and single rides costing just $1.25, but access to the city's suburban-focused commuter rail costs extra.
DART riders at Tuesday night's board meeting said that the fare increases hurt some of the most vulnerable people in Dallas who rely on DART.
"It's cruel. You're hurting the most desperate," Steven Schiffer told the board. "I don't understand the point of a 20-percent fare hike on people who clearly need access to the city to get to their jobs."
Jon-Bertrell Killen, one of seven DART board members who voted against the hike, sympathized with Schiffer's confusion.
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“I think it’s difficult for our customers to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing,” he said at the meeting.
The cost of a local DART monthly pass will increase from $80 to $96, again bringing DART's cost to riders in line with the United States' biggest transit providers. A 30-day, unlimited MetroCard in New York City costs $121, is good for rides on all the city's trains and buses, and can easily cover the vast majority of a rider's total transit costs for the month.
In Dallas, the only way for a DART rider to get from the Design District to Cedar Springs, which should be a 10-minute trip down Oak Lawn Avenue, is taking a bus downtown, then waiting for another bus through Uptown to Cedar Springs, a guaranteed hourlong journey. Similar examples, especially when traveling across town, abound throughout the system.
The best part of the new structure is that fares are stackable. Any rider purchasing 16 day passes through DART's Go Pass app or one of the new reloadable cards will get free rides for the rest of the month. Eventually, DART plans to apply fare capping to its monthly passes as well, allowing users who buy 10 monthly passes — which add up to $960 — to ride the last two months of the year for free.