Passengers at Dallas Area Rapid Transit's Union Station.
Photo credit: Photo courtesy of DART.
Don Johnson wasn't quite sure what to expect when a small group of people and a gaggle of news cameras converged on him as he got off the Red Line at Union Station Monday morning. What he soon found out was he was making history and the crowd was on hand to help celebrate.
Johnson is the 250 millionth customer on the light rail system of Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART). The daily DART Rail rider was greeted by DART President/Executive Director Gary Thomas and Michael Melaniphy, president and chief executive officer of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), who is in Dallas for the annual APTA Rail Conference.
“I started riding DART because of gas prices about 10 years ago, Johnson said. “But it’s comfortable and gives me a chance to read while I’m on the train so I stayed. I love DART.”
Johnson, who is from DeSoto and works at Vent-a-Hood in Richardson, was randomly selected from Monday morning commuters by DART staff to represent all riders of the 72 mile, 55 station system throughout the past 16 years. DART Rail ridership is calculated on a variety of factors, including statistical sampling. As part of the recognition, DART will award the customer four monthly Regional passes good for use in July, along with tickets to popular destinations such as the Dallas Zoo, Children's Aquarium at Fair Park, Hawaiian Falls, Dallas Summer Musicals and the Museum of Nature & Science.
"This is a great day and a neat milestone for us," Thomas said. "But I'm also thinking about the individual trips and special moments that preceded this one. School kids made their first trips to the zoo, or a Mavericks' or Stars' game on DART. People have met, gone on first dates and found their spouses on DART. Our customers plan special outings around our service. We've really become woven into the fabric of the region and that's what's exciting to me."
Sharing the Moment
DART also is offering a special way for all light rail customers to share their transit moments. Customers may post pictures of good times and great trips they've made on DART Rail via Twitter. Just add the hashtag #DART250. The photos also will be posted to a section of the agency's Facebook page, www.Facebook.com/DARTDallas.
Rapid Growth for Rail
DART began light rail operations on June 14, 1996, opening the first 11 miles of its 20-mile light rail starter system. Through the years, the agency has expanded to operate the longest electric light rail system in the United States.
DART rail is still growing. A five-mile section of the Orange Line, from Bachman Station in northwest Dallas to Irving, opens July 30. A second section of the line, as well as a five-mile extension of the Blue Line from Garland to Rowlett, will open Dec. 2. DART will have 90 miles in operation when it completes the Orange Line in December 2014 with a station at Terminal A of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
The agency is adding new customer service and security amenities at the current and future stations while it grows. In May, DART completed the installation of closed circuit security cameras at each of its 55 light rail stations. Monitored by DART police, the cameras provide real time information from the stations, helping officers respond more quickly. Rail Operations also uses the information to help manage passenger flow during major events.
New variable message boards are being installed at each station. These boards provide next train arrival and departure details to customers waiting on the platform. They also have a public address component, allowing DART staff stationed in the train control center to announce service information. All stations should have these signs by the end of the year.
Working to Attract Another 250,000,000 Customer Trips
DART is using the celebration to launch a joint effort with The T in Fort Worth and the Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA) to encourage commuters to "Dump the Pump" and try transit the week of June 18 as part of an annual APTA campaign. Now in its seventh year, Dump the Pump emphasizes the economic and environmental benefits of transit.
The three transit agencies will be contacting non-transit users at a variety of locations starting June 8. Commuters will be offered a free weekly regional transit pass in exchange for a gasoline receipt. The passes are good for any DART, T or DCTA fixed route service. The idea is not only to entice customers to try transit, but to help calculate the cost of commuting in a single-occupant vehicle.
Using data from AAA, APTA researchers determined that North Texas commuters who switch to the region’s transit network may save more than $9,000 in the annual cost of driving to work (based on data from AAA). Transit also encourages environmental sustainability. DART, T and DCTA buses run on either clean diesel or natural gas and DART's light rail fleet produces zero emissions.