The DART Commission is tasked with balancing DART’s mission of enriching lives, connecting communities, and expanding opportunities with our responsibility to local taxpayers who help fund the services we provide. The Commission has worked closely with DART staff over the last two years to analyze every service we provide to ensure we are operating as efficiently and effectively as we can.
As a result, DART made several changes a few months ago that I am personally very excited about. The most significant and most exciting change, in my opinion, was the introduction of Flex Connect. Flex Connect is a new on-demand zone in Urbandale that replaced an inefficient fixed route, which is an improved service for the riders who can now use an Uber or a taxi to get to their nearest DART bus stop at a lower cost to DART. This pilot project has been very successful so far with even a slight increase in ridership.
Because staff identified services that were underutilized and could be reduced or eliminated, we were able to add service in other areas where there was more of a need. DART added service to Deer Ridge, created a one-seat ride into downtown Des Moines from Grimes, and extended a route to serve the West Des Moines Public Library, just to name a few.
Despite all the changes we have made, our work is not done. The Commission is tackling several significant issues that will impact how we provide regional mobility services well into the future. These include but are not limited to:
- Analyzing potential changes to the DART property tax formula: The current property tax formula, which determines the property tax levy rate for each member community, was established in 2008. A lot has changed since then so the Commission is holding a series of workshops to establish guiding principles for any revisions to the formula and will then evaluate various formula options based on how well they meet the established principles.
- Assessing how to address DART’s operations and maintenance facility needs: DART’s current operations and maintenance facility is beyond its useful life. DART has been advised by the Federal Transit Administration that it will not provide any grant funding toward repairs or upkeep of the existing facility. Knowing this, the Commission authorized staff to apply for a federal grant that could be used to relocate and build a new facility. DART was fortunate to receive the maximum amount awarded, $17.275 million late last year. Now, the Commission will have to decide in the coming months, whether to invest in maintaining the current facility or to relocate.
- Evaluating innovative service delivery models: We have hired consultants to help us evaluate if there are other ways of providing transportation services that would meet the needs of the region as well as take into account the changing technology and transportation trends. We are calling this the Transit Optimization Study. We are in the early phases of the study, which we anticipate being complete in the fall after we gather public input sometime this spring or summer.
- Right sizing the buses and adding electric buses to our fleet: We have constantly received feedback regarding the size of our buses in relation to the number of people on those buses. And while we certainly provide more rides than people may perceive to be the case (on average, our buses carry 20 passengers per hour), over the next several years we will work to right size the buses, helping us save a little money on the purchase of the buses and a little money on fuel efficiency. Every little bit counts. In addition, we are excited to add seven electric buses to our fleet later this year. These buses are made possible by federal grants and generous contributions from MidAmerican Energy Company and the City of Des Moines. In addition to the environmental benefits we will achieve, we believe this investment will also provide long-term financial benefits to DART. And the technology is only going to get better and more cost effective.
- Working to diversify our revenues to ease the burden on property tax payers: While DART has several revenue sources including bus fares, federal funding, state funding, business partnerships, and advertising revenue to name a few, we are largely dependent on property tax dollars. In an effort to reduce the burden on property tax payers, the commission has been brainstorming other revenue sources that could provide sustainable, reliable funding into the future. Several of these potential revenue sources are dependent upon an action of the Iowa Legislature. We would welcome any assistance you can provide in contacting your state elected officials in support of DART and would also welcome any ideas on potential revenue sources you would see as viable.
All of the work we are doing will be that much more effective, the more we hear from you, our customers and constituents. You can provide your feedback by:
- Contacting your representative on the DART Commission
- Contacting your city council representative
- Contacting your State representative and/or Senator
- Attending a DART Commission meeting and addressing the full Commission during the public comment period
The latest information on DART’s Board of Commissioners, including a list of members, updated agendas and schedules for meetings and workshops are always available on DART’s website.
DART Commission Chair and West Des Moines City Council Member