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Mesquite is Ready to RideExpress bus service begins a new era in regional transit
This spring, DART will initiate express bus service between the City of Mesquite and the Lawnview Station near the southern end of the Green Line. The new route is the first foray into providing transit services to non-member cities.
"I feel like we're trailblazers, not just for Mesquite or for DART, but for the whole region," says Mesquite Assistant City Manager Jerry Dittman. "I've heard hundreds of comments and seen the results of an online survey, and overwhelmingly our citizens are eager for alternatives to commuting by car by a ratio of 3 to 1."
Across the North Texas region, cities are recognizing the need for greater transportation alternatives to improve mobility and spur economic development. The Dallas-Fort Worth area is the fastest-growing metro in the country, with a population estimated to pass the 9.5 million mark by 2035.
"The reality of the matter," says Michael Morris, director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, "is that road construction alone won't be able to keep up with the growth."
Acknowledging that many communities just outside the DART Service Area are not able to re-allocate the one percent of their local sales tax required to join DART at the present time, the agency is exploring new models for providing transit services.
"We have to figure out a system that is competitive in a free-market society and is equitable to the cities within the DART Service Area," says DART President/Executive Director Gary Thomas.
Non-stop to the Green Line
The express buses will travel nonstop from E.H. Hanby Stadium in downtown Mesquite to DART's Lawnview Station via Scyene Road. Service will run weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. – catering primarily to work and school commuters. The fare will only be a $7 DART System Pass paid to the operator at time of boarding.
To make the service possible, the City of Mesquite will cover the entire operating cost of the bus service. DART will keep all fare box revenue to cover system access and impacts.
The unique arrangement has been carefully crafted to provide maximum benefit to Mesquite while protecting DART's commitment to its longtime member cities and its financial stability. The Mesquite partnership provides a case study for DART to use in discussing similar transit agreements with other communities just outside its perimeter.
"This connection will be a huge economic engine for our future," says Mesquite Mayor John Monaco. "For Mesquite to attract the kind of highend businesses we want, we have to connect to the rest of the regional transit system."
New Policies Open New Opportunities
A recent change in policy – and philosophy – opened the door for the service agreement with Mesquite. In April 2011, the DART Board amended its policy permitting the contract of commuter rail service with non-member cities to include agreements for bus services as well.
The interlocal agreement, approved by the board in October, will last three years. Because it is a new approach for the agency, the Mesquite contract is being carefully watched by other communities in the region.
"We have to figure out a system that is competitive in a free-market society and is equitable to the cities within the DART Service Area."
- DART President/Executive Director Gary Thomas
DART began operating outside the service area in 1996 when it started the Trinity Railway Express in conjunction with The T in Fort Worth. More recently, the agency worked closely with the Denton County Transit Authority as it launched the new A-train commuter rail, which runs on DART-owned track from downtown Denton to DART's Trinity Mills Station.
But the arrangement with Mesquite is a significant milestone in DART's years-long effort to innovate ways to bring transit to a wider swath of the Metroplex.
"Increased regional investment in DART has the potential to expand our funding base and send our ridership soaring," says Todd Plesko, DART's vice president of Planning and Development.
"Fifty percent of people working in the DART Service Area come from outside it, and for those people, the benefits of transit would be immediate and tangible. Additionally, when we're seeking federal funding, regional cooperation is a huge plus."
And last May, DART signed an interlocal agreement with the North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which could lead to passenger rail connecting Dallas to Tyler and points as far east as Shreveport. Although decades away, the alliance is an example of the wide-reaching, long-term thinking that produced DART Rail in the first place.
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