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Sunrise Dallas Is Calling On City Leaders to Support Free DART Access for Students

Without transportation, many of the things Dallas has to offer might as well be on another planet. A group of students wants to change that.
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Admission to the Dallas Museum of Art is free. With a library card, anyone can access archival material and historical texts for research at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library.

On any given weekend, museums around the city offer opportunities to visit for reduced rates or free. But if you don’t have access to transportation, all of those places might as well be on another continent.

For the last seven months, the student-led group Sunrise Dallas has been encouraging local leaders to rectify that by providing free DART access for Dallas County students in kindergarten through 12th grade. About a year ago, Alex Macon wrote about DART’s fledgling plan to do just that, but very little has been heard about the effort since.

Austin, Seattle, Boston, and Minneapolis already offer free student transit. Access to more of the city and what it has to offer opens up larger worlds for students. And studies show that when people become transit riders early in life, they are more likely to be transit users for life.  

Last week, the group decided to showcase those who have committed to making the plan a reality.

“We’ve spent the last 2 months privately asking the DART Board, the body who runs the transit system, Dallas school district, & the City of Dallas to sign a pledge saying they are committed to making the pilot program a reality,” the group tweeted.

They say that Hosanna Yemiru and Jon-Bertrell Killen, both on the DART board of directors; Dallas ISD trustees Joe Carreon, Dustin Marshall, and Ben Mackey; and Dallas City Council members Omar Narvaez, Cara Mendelsohn, Jaynie Schultz, Casey Thomas, and Chad West have all committed to helping make the program happen. Now they’re asking supporters to reach out to those who haven’t made that commitment. (Mendelsohn was the only council member out of that list to not sign a pledge to kickstart a formal program.)

“I think ideally this would just be a really accessible program, someone just needs to show a student ID to get it,” said Kidus Girma, a Sunrise member. “DART has a program where if you are a student in the ISD you can get half off, but it requires you to go in-person to dart HQ and there’s no awareness of this program existing. There are too many steps and it’s too arduous.”

The DART board of trustees recently voted to send excess sales tax revenue back to its partner cities. Dallas is expected to receive about $111 million as part of that program. In a memo to Council, Assistant City Manager Robert Perez included $1 million for a pilot program that would make riding DART free for students.

“Portland had a similar program that saw a 60 percent increase in student ridership,” Girma said. “We’re hoping if the pilot program becomes real and the city, DART, and DISD do a good job of explaining that it’s fre, we do think ridership will increase.”

The City Council is expected to vote on how to spend the $111 million in March, which would include free fare for students.

Matt Goodman contributed to this report.

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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