2 min read April 2022 — Invest: spoke with Nadine Lee, president and CEO of Dallas Area Rapid Transit, to discuss the evolution of public transit in a rapidly growing Dallas market. “Our focus on the rider experience is going to help us change the way we do business,” Lee said.
How has DART grown over the past two years?
Travel patterns changed drastically during the pandemic and we have adapted our service levels, routes and frequencies to address those shifts. We just launched our new bus route network in January 2022 and are already seeing growth in ridership. We have spent three years working with communities and our service area cities. We synthesized all that information to develop better bus routes that operate faster and serve destinations people actually want and need to go to. We learned a lot about midday travel, which became more important because people were not only traveling at the traditional morning and afternoon peak. There is also a lot more travel on weekends that is conducive for transit trips.
We are advancing our technology at stations to support our growth. We are installing kiosks at all of our rail stations that have digital LED touch screens so that we can get information to our riders about their trips. We also have our GoPass mobile app, which allows people to access trip information and fare payment right at their fingertips. We have also updated all of our validators at the stations so they accept credit cards, removing all kinds of hurdles when having to buy a fare pass.
How much automation can we expect to be implemented in a public transit system?
Automation would be a great integration, especially as it relates to our operation of the bus system on the streets. Obviously, one of the hazards of operating transit is things that happen on the street. There is always the possibility of a collision or incident, and if automation gives us that safety factor, we are all for anything that will make our operation safer for operators, passengers and pedestrians. I would love for us to have a bus that has enough vehicle-to-vehicle communication capability that other vehicles on the street will just yield whenever the bus comes through. That creates a virtual bus lane and gives buses priority on the street without needing a dedicated physical lane. That way, you truly prioritize the passengers on the bus.
How essential is public transportation for social and economic mobility?
It is critically important. In a lot of cases, so many people who ride transportation are essential workers. The demographics of our ridership are mostly people of color and low income who don’t own cars and often don’t speak English as their primary language. We’re talking about people who already face the biggest hurdles in accessing opportunities and transportation often makes things even more difficult for them on a societal level. We want to remove barriers of access through things like discounted fares. Transit should not be an obstacle for anyone getting a new job and building a prosperous life.
What is your outlook for DART in the near term and how is that shaping your priorities moving forward?
Our board has been incredibly supportive of our 2022 fiscal year goals. We are turning our focus inward so we can figure out how to change perceptions of our system, from the perspectives of security, cleanliness and service reliability. DART is now in a position where money is not the issue, but labor resources are. We also want to hire more people at a rate that will allow us to operate at full capacity. But there’s a lot of homework we need to do in that realm. We need to look at our entire compensation and benefits package, as well as our training for frontline supervisors.
Our focus on the rider experience is going to help us change the way we do business. This is not the same DART we had even a year ago. We are really trying to leverage the massive investment in our infrastructure that has been put in place over the last 38 years and become an agency that can operate our transit services at the highest quality level. When I came on board in July 2021, DART had essentially become known as a construction agency because of so much time spent building out our light rail system and infrastructure. Once we get our vacancies filled, it’s just a matter of focusing on operating this service and agency through this region. But we need to change our mindset from a construction focus to an operating focus, and make sure the operations are committed to providing a better service for the customer.
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