Dallas Area Rapid Transit may soon offer free rides to students.
The transit agency’s not out on too much of a limb here by considering a “K-12 Student Pass Program,” which came up for discussion with the DART board’s budget committee last week and will be debated over several months’ worth of meetings and public hearings. (DART has tapped June 1 as a potential start date for the program, if the agency does commit to it.)
Austin’s Capital Metro recently made its free student transit program, launched as a pilot in 2018, permanent. Seattle, Boston, and Minneapolis are among the other places that have seen the benefits of giving at least some kids access to free public transit.
Early returns show that giving students free rides improves school attendance and academic performance. It saves time for families and money for schools. It gets more people to use public transit. It reduces inequality, giving poor students better access to the extracurricular opportunities as students from wealthier families. Outside of the classroom, where you live and whether your parents own a car shouldn’t limit your ability to see what North Texas has to offer.
“It’s one thing to get a ticket to the Dallas Museum of Art, but if you have no way to get there, it’s like telling me I’ve got a free condo on the moon,” says Jon-Betrell Killen, vice chair of DART’s budget and finance committee and a city of Dallas appointee to the agency’s board of directors.
Free transit could make a difference in the lives of a lot of students: A DART presentation identified eight public school districts, 26 public charter schools, and 107 private schools in the agency’s service area. But it wouldn’t make much of a difference at all to DART’s bottom line.
The revenue from school and student ticket purchases add up to between $1 to $2 million, or just 0.3% of DART’s $580 million operating budget. (The vast majority of DART’s revenue comes from sales taxes collected by its member cities.) DART already offers half-off fares to student riders.