A free downtown Dallas circulator bus will soon take a shorter, simpler route. That decision came only after a long, tortuous Dallas City Council discussion Wednesday.
Council members approved another year of the D-Link, which is meant to connect convention center visitors and downtown to central Dallas hotspots such as the Farmers Market, Deep Ellum and the Historic West End. But they took time first to vent about what they believe to be Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s shortcomings.
North Oak Cliff council member Scott Griggs said DART "is failing this city." His western Dallas colleague Omar Narvaez said DART "has failed us." Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Adam Medrano implored his colleagues to hold DART accountable, but still approve D-Link for another year.
City taxpayers, DART and Downtown Dallas, Inc., share the cost of operating the $1.6 million D-Link bus route. DART pays more than $1 million of the cost. For now, D-Link serves as a precursor to a new downtown streetcar that will connect existing streetcar lines in North Oak Cliff and Uptown.
Ridership on D-Link, which operates seven buses, has been meager. DART says about 300 people ride the bus on an average weekday and more than 400 ride on the weekends. But the pink-and-yellow buses, which pass by stops every 15 minutes on weekdays, can often be seen empty or near empty as they run through downtown streets.
Downtown Dallas, Inc., hopes the new route — which eliminates a trip through Ross Avenue in the West End and a foray into Uptown — will help increase ridership and efficiency. The new route begins in January. Kourtny Garrett, the group’s CEO and president, said the new route will help serve "most of the major entertainment areas downtown in a more simplified and user-friendly manner."
Only council member Adam McGough voted against D-Link. McGough said he was excited for D-Link when it first began in 2013, but didn’t believe it has worked like it should. The city has too many other needs and D-Link is not the "highest, best use of city funds," he said.
"I just have not seen this particular item be worth the funding we’re putting into it," McGough said.
Several council members wanted D-Link or another free bus to come to their part of town. Garrett said she was open to expanding to Trinity Groves and welcomes other connections. But she said the city or private partners need to pitch in if they want to expand the service.
But other council members simply veered off topic and took turns beating up on DART. They said potential riders don’t feel safe and that they can’t get to work and that the city needs a new high-frequency, grid-based bus system. Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway even asked for new bushes instead of "dead grass" in his district. And Mayor Mike Rawlings didn’t slow his colleagues, waiting until afterward to note that the council had gone off topic too much.
DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said in response Wednesday that the agency is "continuing to work with the city on their concerns as we continue deploying the expanded and improved bus service in Dallas in the coming months."
But the council members had been buoyed by a recent University of Texas at Arlington study that gave them data showing transit-dependent Dallas residents struggled to use DART efficiently to move around. Council members on Wednesday leveled a series of criticisms of DART’s bus service and rail expansion in the northern suburbs.
They also lauded the city’s new transportation director, who will start in two weeks, and City Manager T.C. Broadnax for creating the position. Sandy Greyson, who represents Far North Dallas, said she can’t wait for the director to start so the city can "become masters of our own fate for a change." But she said the D-Link is at least one DART bus that is working properly.
"It’s doing what it was meant to do," she said. "It’s a downtown circulator. And that’s what we were asking for, and that’s what has been provided."