March 13--Ridership was modest for new Dallas Area Rapid Transit service between Mesquite and Dallas that began on Monday, but city officials expressed optimism that numbers will grow.
Just 38 passengers boarded buses in downtown Mesquite Monday morning and headed to Dallas. Agency officials hope the experiment will become a model for how to extend service to cities that refuse to contribute the sales taxes that DART has collected from its members since 1984.
The bus service, which will run weekdays every 30 minutes during morning and evening rush hours, is DART's first effort to move beyond the boundaries of its 13 member cities. A round-trip bus ticket costs $7, and includes a DART day pass for buses and trains in its service area.
Mesquite was part of the initial group of cities helping plan DART, but voters there rejected a 1983 ballot measure that would have made it a charter member city, though just barely. DART supporters lost by 21 votes.
Since then, Mesquite has opted to dedicate its sales taxes for other purposes, and says it has no way of affording full membership in DART.
Some DART board members say the new deal with Mesquite makes it less likely the agency will ever persuade a city to become the 14th DART member.
But on Monday, Mesquite Assistant City Manager Jerry Dittman said the city's willingness to pay about $300,000 a year for the bus service shows that interest in DART is strong, even in cities that can't afford the full price of membership.
Mesquite boarders must pay $7 for a ticket but could use it as a day pass throughout the system.
People who board at member-city stations pay $4 for the day pass.
"This is a first for the region, and it's kind of a red-letter day," Dittman said. "We have found a new way, a new business model that can extend service beyond DART's member cities."
Some DART board members were wary of the new approach. Former chairman Mark Enoch of Rowlett has said he worries giving cities such as Mesquite the option to join on the cheap means that none will ever join and then pay as much as legacy members.
But Dittman suggested that DART was simply recognizing the foolhardiness of expecting new cities to commit the kind of resources that the original 13 have contributed.
"There was obviously a problem with the old model if no one has joined in 20 years," he said. "DART officials have told us that 'We have got to change the paradigm.' They refer to this as the Mesquite Model."
The buses left every 30 minutes, and the trip from Mesquite's Hanby Stadium to Lawnview Station in southern Dallas takes about 20 minutes.
Dittman said the busiest bus Monday morning was the first one to leave, at 6 a.m. It had 11 passengers. The seven other trips had between just a couple and five or six riders.
"It's a new service. A new city. That's kind of normal," he said. "It's also the first day of spring break, so we didn't get any students we are expecting. So we feel this is a pretty good showing for a first day."
AT A GLANCE: Mesquite and DART
DART Route 282: 14 daily round trips between Hanby Stadium, 410 E. Davis St. in Mesquite, and Lawnview Station in Dallas
Times: 5-9 a.m. and 3-7 p.m.
Price: $7 for a day pass good throughout the DART system
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