Funding Our Future

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Updated 2/23/24

DART is committed to delivering public transit services that people depend on and that central Iowans support as part of a thriving region

Like many public entities, DART is experiencing a funding shortfall due to local revenue not keeping pace with the cost of providing services. The DART Commission also is implementing a new funding formula that aligns member communities' contributions with the level of services each member community receives. 

We strive to provide the most efficient and effective services possible with local taxpayer dollars. We are working collaboratively with all member communities to develop a budget that balances the interests of transit riders, taxpayers and communities. Our goal is to provide stability for the next several years as we reimagine together what we want Greater Des Moines’ public transit system to be for the next decade. 

This page will continue to be updated as conversations continue. View a recent update on these funding conversations as of April 23, 2024. 

Get Involved

We invite you to share what public transit means to you in these ways: 

  • Send an email or call your local elected officials. Find their contact information on your city’s website.
  • Attend a DART Board of Commissioners meeting and provide up to 3 minutes of public comment. Meetings occur on the first Tuesday of the month at noon.
  • Tell us your story by clicking here and filling out the form.

Background on Funding Challenges

All U.S. transit systems receive public funding because public transit is a public service, just like parks, roads, libraries, and other infrastructure. Most transit systems fund 50-80% of their service (operating cost) using local taxes; DART receives 60-70% of its operating budget through local funding from twelve communities that receive DART services. Member communities contribute local funding through a property tax levy – the funding tool set by the Iowa Legislature.

Challenge 1: Revenue Gap

DART continues to take steps to operate as efficiently as possible with taxpayer dollars. We are experiencing budget pressures due to several factors, including: 

  • High inflation is increasing the costs for fuel, insurance, bus parts and more. 
  • Workforce shortages are increasing labor costs to deliver service.
  • Program changes continue to impact the amount DART can collect in reimbursement for paratransit trips from Medicaid. 
  • State changes on how much growth can be distributed to local governments, as well as legislative changes that reduce the collections on the first $150,000 of commercial property parcels have impacted revenue.
  • State revenue has decreased due to the phase-out of the state backfill funds and changes to the multi-residential rollback property tax formula.
  • There has been a decrease in partnership and fare revenue due to lower ridership post-pandemic.

Even with these challenges, DART has strived to maintain a 5% annual budget growth, while also limiting increases in member communities’ property tax levies.

In addition, DART ridership has recovered faster than most peer transit agencies. Last year, DART provided 3.2 million rides, which is just above the number of passengers the Des Moines Airport serves each year.

Like many U.S. transit agencies, COVID-19 relief dollars helped fill a gap in revenue for several years, but these one-time funds are not a sustainable funding stream and no longer available in DART’s budget that begins July 2024.

Challenge 2: New Formula

Each member community has a representative on the DART Commission that decides DART’s budget and service levels. The DART Commission adopted a new funding formula that began to be phased in over eight years, starting in 2021. The new formula moves from all member communities increasing their property tax levies at the same rate to communities contributing funding based on population and the level of services received.

Des Moines’ contribution to DART is increasing over the eight years the formula is being phased in. This fiscal year (July 2023-June 2024) is the third year of implementing the formula and the city is contributing $9.8 million to DART, or 38% of the total local funding DART receives. Over the next five years, that amount will increase to $17.5 million, or 49% of total local funding. The City of Des Moines’ contribution increases significantly because more than 70% of the services DART provides are in Des Moines.

The new formula has resulted in Des Moines’ contribution exceeding the maximum amount of property taxes DART can collect to fund public transit per state law. The city has contributed additional dollars through its Park and Ride Fund for the past three years. 

DART has worked with the Iowa Legislature to secure revenue diversification in hopes of being able to provide property tax relief to all DART communities. To date, the only additional transit funding option the Legislature has authorized is allowing the City of Des Moines to increase its franchise fee—a tax on gas and electric bills—up to 2.5 percent to fund public transit. 

Learn more about how DART is funded and why more diverse and sustainable funding options are needed. View the FY 2025 DART Budget Book


Next Steps

The DART Commission and DART staff are in the process of developing a budget that would begin in July 2024. At this time, more than one budget scenario is being developed based on the following decisions: 

  • The DART Commission has agreed to fund some of the gap in revenue due to no longer having one-time COVID-19 relief funds. DART will also use one-time reserve funds to help reduce the increase in local property taxes.
  • The City of Des Moines is deciding how much to contribute above what it can collect through its property tax levy. The city has agreed to provide some additional funding at a level similar to previous years for the next two years. 
  • DART is planning to reduce expenses, including making cuts to service and administrative costs, to balance its budget and lessen the impact on property taxes for all member communities.

Possible Service Cuts

DART is still determining what level of services we can provide with the local funding we expect to receive for the next three years. We anticipate holding public input in April or May to share specific service cuts that would occur in November 2024. 

Given the additional revenue committed by the City of Des Moines, service cuts will be less than the worst-case scenario that was shared for public input in late 2023. Changes will prioritize reducing how often buses run on local routes and keeping most routes. 

Public Transit’s Future

DART is seeking to provide funding and service stability for the next three years while we engage our community in reimagining what we want our public transit system to be for the next 10 years. With a clear path forward, the DART Commission and staff will continue to educate state lawmakers on the need for sustainable funding options.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             


Frequently Asked Questions

What is DART's vision?

DART’s vision is to facilitate affordable, seamless mobility options that support economic prosperity for all. 

We have an opportunity to decide what we want our public transit to be – do we fund just enough transit service for those who have no other option, or do we want a transit system that can drive the economic and social vibrancy of the region? We believe Greater Des Moines can join many other communities, including Omaha and Indianapolis, that have made the decision to invest in public transit as an economic driver.

We have heard from our elected leaders and central Iowans that people value a regional public transit system. DART looks forward to community conversations about how to provide robust transportation options that meet our region's needs today and support future growth.

How is DART governed?

DART is represented by a board of 12 Commissioners, one from each member government we serve. Each Commissioner is an elected official from their member government. The DART Commission is a volunteer group that sets policy and oversees DART’s budget. DART’s staff manages and carries out system planning and day-to-day operations. Learn more.

How is DART funded? 

A mix of federal, state and local dollars allows DART to provide a regional transit system that gives 3.2 million rides each year. Learn more

What you should know: 

  • All U.S. transit systems receive public funding because public transit is a public service, just like parks, roads, bridges, trails and other infrastructure. Anyone can use DART services!
  • The percentage of local funding DART receives (60-70% of DART’s total budget) aligns with what other transit agencies receive from local funding.
  • Most transit systems of DART’s size are funded with sales tax, not property tax. Property tax is the only funding mechanism authorized by the Iowa Legislature for member communities to use, except in the City of Des Moines. 
  • The City of Des Moines was given the option of also collecting a franchise fee of up to 2.5 percent that could go toward public transit. The City of Des Moines will need to vote on whether to increase its franchise fee to fund public transit. 
What is DART's total operating budget? 

DART’S operating budget is $42.2 million in the current fiscal year ending June 30, 2024. This budget covers the cost of providing services to 12 member communities in Greater Des Moines. 

This budget is separate from DART’s capital budget, which is primarily funded by federal dollars and used for infrastructure needs, such as bus purchases and building repairs. 

How much do taxpayers contribute to DART?

The amount member communities contribute is about 1-2 percent of homeowners' total property taxes. This ranges from about $50-$100 per year for someone who owns a $200,000 home. Most DART communities spend less on public transit than other services funded by property taxes, including libraries, parks and recreation, and public health. Plus, public transit is the connector that allows people to access these public amenities. 

Why don’t we charge more for people to ride? 

DART will be discussing the fare rate in fiscal year 2025. 

Increasing bus fare would likely result in fewer people riding DART as a lot of people in our community already struggle to pay their bus fare. Our half-fare program now has 800 people living in poverty signed up. This is a small percentage of the one-third of central Iowans who do not earn enough to cover a basic household budget. The ALICE Report shares more about poverty in Iowa. 

People’s budgets continue to be stretched as the cost of living has increased. More than 60% of current riders have an annual income of less than $30,000, while most of our riders are using the bus system to get to work. 

What can DART do to address these funding shortages through efficiencies?

Public transit is one of the most efficient and effective public services funded with our tax dollars. DART carries a higher-than-average number of passengers per hour at a lower cost per boarding on average than similar size transit systems around the country. Per capita spending on public transit in Greater Des Moines is less than many of the midwestern cities we compete with for talent and economic development opportunities. 

DART has worked hard to make our services more efficient and innovative, including purchasing smaller vehicles and providing new services like Flex Connect and DART On Demand that are connecting riders, especially in suburban centers, to bus routes and to services they need within their neighborhoods. Partnerships with organizations, such as the Principal Foundation, allow DART to add additional services at no cost to taxpayers. 

Fixed-route service is still the most cost-effective way of providing public transit services. DART Fixed Route services average 17 passengers per hour. Some of DART’s busiest routes average up to 27 passengers per hour. 

DART will continue to look for ways to operate more efficiently with the resources available. 

What would make funding public transit more sustainable? 

DART and its Board of Commissioners have worked for several years to educate Iowa lawmakers on options to diversify revenue and reduce reliance on property tax. Other transit agencies are funded through methods, such as a sales tax, income tax or a motor vehicle tax. DART will continue to educate elected officials on these other options for funding public transit. 

Who does DART serve?

For most riders, public transit is the only means they have to get to work and to access services and opportunities in our communities. Most riders have one or no working vehicles (86%) in their household and an annual income less than $30,000 (64%). Learn more.

In addition to providing day-to-day essential services, DART also supports the community with its pressing needs. For example, when temperatures are dangerously high, we provide free rides to cooling centers. When big events happen – like the Iowa State Fair – we connect tens of thousands of Iowans safely and efficiently to these opportunities.

How many people ride DART? 

DART provides approximately 12,000 rides on average each weekday. Ridership has grown significantly in the past two years and is at about 70 percent of DART’s pre-pandemic level. DART ridership has recovered at a faster rate than most peer transit agencies. 

Learn more about the benefits of public transit and follow us on social media at @ridedart.  

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