As it does every five years or so, the time has come for Dallas Area Rapid Transit to figure out a plan to raise prices.
The cost for riding DART for a full service day would, under the proposed plan, increase from $5 to $6 and rather than buying a single day pass, riders wanting unlimited daily service would need to purchase both an a.m. and p.m. pass each of which would cost $3.
The cost of a monthly pass, currently $80, would go up to $96 and the cost of an annual pass, currently $800, would go up to $960. Midday passes, which are good from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., would go up from $1.75 to $2.00. Additionally, riders would be allowed to purchase a single-bus ride for $2.50, replacing DART's current $2.50, two-hour pass.
The transportation agency has to do so for a couple of reasons: First, thanks to state law, Texas municipal transportation providers are required to collect fares sufficient to make sure the provider can cover its expenses. In DART's case specifically, the agency 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. DART's proposed fare structure, unveiled Tuesday, would raise prices across the board, while also leveraging a couple of new technologies to allow frequent users to avoid upfront costs.
Overall, according to Joe Costello, DART's senior vice president of finance, fares would go up 20 percent, covering an anticipated, initial 3 percent dip in ridership when prices go up, while still providing the 17 percent bump DART's 20-year plan says it needs.
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A couple of members of the DART board said Tuesday that they were worried the changes wouldn't be affordable for those who rely on DART as their primary means of transportation. A couple of coming changes to the way DART handles payments are set to make things more equitable for those who can't afford discounted monthly or annual passes up front.
Later this year, Costello said, DART intends to roll out an updated version of its GoPass phone app which will allow riders to accumulate their way to a monthly or annual pass, before any fare changes are even implemented. Riders who purchase 16 daily $5 fares within a 31-day period will be able to ride DART for free during the rest of that period. Riders who accumulate the equivalent of 10 monthly pass purchases would be able to ride DART for the rest of the year at no cost as well. Sometime next year, DART intends to roll out a stored value card for those who don't have a smartphone — or simply don't want to use the app. The cards, which will be available at more than 900 stores, will cost $6 and come with $6 of stored value.
When a rider taps the card on one of the near-field communication terminals that are currently being installed on DART buses and at DART train stations, the price of that ride will be deducted from the value on the card. As riders move through their day, they will be charged no more than the cheapest fare available. For example, someone taking two buses to work in the morning would be charged $2.50 on first tap, the amount of a single ride, and then 50 cents on their second tap, upgrading their single ride to an a.m. pass.
DART staff and the DART board are expected to work on the proposed fares throughout the spring. The first public hearings on the potential fare changes will happen this summer, if the board signs off on the plan.