A program allowing Dallas students to ride DART services at taxpayer expense has been approved by the City and will launch early next year, but City officials are concerned DART is not fully cooperating.
Assistant City Manager Robert M. Perez released a memo last week detailing the latest news on the DART Ridership Pilot Program, which will offer free ridership to students from grades 6 to 12.
The City has allocated $250,000 toward the pilot, which will launch in January and aims to “provide 1,302 middle school and high school students with City-funded DART ridership.” The pilot program will run until the end of the 2024 spring semester.
Currently, students in grades K-12 can use their student IDs to pay half-price on DART fares and can obtain a half-price pass at DART headquarters. Children under age 5 can ride DART for free when accompanied by a parent or guardian.
School districts throughout Dallas will be given DART passes, which will then be distributed to select students. Exactly how many passes will be given to each district has yet to be determined, but “it is envisioned that the passes will be distributed to the school districts based upon the proportion of transit-dependent students by district,” according to the memo.
“Each student using the tap card will be required to tap the card when entering a bus or train and DART can track the usage of each tap card as a performance metric,” the document adds.
After the program launches, City staff will provide monthly updates to the Dallas City Council Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
During Monday’s committee meeting, council members expressed concern about the program, saying it seemed more limited than originally intended, and criticized DART’s reluctance to fully support the pilot.
“This isn’t about the city dropping the ball, this is about DART dropping the ball,” said Council Member Jaynie Schultz. “Playing games with the numbers is not the way to do this. I’m very disappointed with DART.”
She said the pilot seems to be “set up to fail” and said the City should send a memo to the DART board asking them to “clarify their intentions” regarding this program.
DART President and CEO Nadine Lee previously said, “The City of Dallas, through DART’s existing fare structure and fare policy, would be subsidizing fares for students,” per The Dallas Morning News.
The effort to implement this program has been led by local students from Sunrise Movement Dallas.
“There are so many students that can’t afford to pay DART,” said recent high school graduate Jack Chrismon, per DMN. “And by making it fare-free for students, we are instilling this sort of culture of riding trains and buses.”