Over the summer, the student-led effort by Sunrise Dallas to provide free Dallas Area Rapid Transit ridership to kindergarten through 12th grade students in Dallas finally won approval.
The city’s $250,000 seed money comes from an interlocal agreement with DART that gave the city an $80 million share of excess sales tax revenue collected by the transit agency.
The city gave more details Friday about how the program would be implemented—and a memo from assistant city manager Robert Perez indicates that it is based solely on the $250,000 the city has allocated for the pilot, and will be limited in how many students actually can obtain the passes.
The pilot will offer 1,302 middle school and high schoolers passes for the spring semester, a number informed by some number crunching and economic realities—there are at least 12 school districts located in the city, and a quarter of a million dollars to divide. The city could pay for 260 students from kindergarten to 12th grade to ride DART for a year, or it could offer the service to more students in a smaller cohort for a shorter amount of time to get a better idea of the program’s popularity.
The students receiving the passes will be identified by their districts as being the most transit-dependent. Over the next few months, the city will work with districts to see how many students would qualify, and then determine how many passes will go to each district. The memo sent to the City Council Friday indicates that 12 school districts met with the city and DART.
In a Wednesday meeting of the City Council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, District 11 Councilwoman Jaynie Schultz took issue with DART’s apparent recalcitrance in fully supporting the pilot. Her fellow committee members also expressed concern that the program was far more modest than what was originally proposed.
“This isn’t about the city dropping the ball, this is about DART dropping the ball,” she said. “Playing games with the numbers is not the way to do this. I’m very disappointed with DART.”
Shultz said she would prefer to send a memo back to the DART board asking them to “clarify for us their intention,” because the pilot as explained in Perez’s memo seems like it is “set up to fail.”
Perez told the committee that the options outlined in the memo were “based on current DART fare policies.”
Middle school and high school students are currently offered half-price fares if they have their student identification, or a half-price pass if they go to DART headquarters downtown to purchase one.
In July, Sunrise Dallas member Kids Girma spoke about how transformative access to transit could be for children in Dallas. Various organizations offer a great deal of free opportunities for young Dallasites, including a bustling arts district, cultural centers and museums, libraries, and more. It can also be instrumental in allowing some students to seek internships and part time jobs. It could also open up the prospect of more magnet and choice school options for high school students, he said.
“I think at its core, it’s a matter of access. Will they be able to get to the DMA or the Perot? Will they be able to see their friends? Get a side job? Go to the movie theater?” Girma said.
Tap cards will be distributed to qualifying students in December, and the program will go into effect in January. Ridership will be tracked through the cards. Whether the program expands or dies depends on just how much the students who receive the cards actually use them.