The free ride could soon be over for Dallas Streetcar passengers, Dallas City Council members said Monday.
Members of the council’s Mobility, Infrastructure and Sustainability Committee expressed support for a fare on the Dallas Streetcar, which is operated in partnership with Dallas Area Rapid Transit. But the council members said their support isn’t about money generated by a fare — the revenue would only cover a small portion of the streetcar’s annual cost — but, rather, a matter of fairness.
"Everyone else who rides a DART bus or a DART rail pays a fare," said Sandy Greyson, who represents Far North Dallas. "It seems to me if people are riding the streetcar, they should pay a fare."
The streetcar, a 2.4-mile line runs between the Union Station area and the Bishop Arts District, has been free for riders since its first phase opened in 2015. It has been paired with the D-Link, a free downtown circulator bus meant primarily for out-of-town visitors.
The city, DART and the North Central Texas Council of Governments share the $2.1 million annual operating and maintenance cost for the streetcar. DART and the city also plan to extend the streetcar line in the coming years through downtown and, they hope, into Uptown.
DART officials estimated that a $1 fare would bring in about $133,000 in annual revenue. Joseph Costello, DART’s senior vice president of finance, said the fare could be included in the cost of other DART tickets or a $1 standalone fare. And he said $1 was just an idea they threw out. The cost or the structure could change, he said.
"There’s not a lot of science behind it," Costello said in an interview afterward. "That’s the part where we’re going to have to dig a little deeper and see, OK, at different price points, what might be the loss of ridership, if any?"
DART assumes they’ll lose nearly 20,000 of their 151,500 annual riders — about a quarter of the nearly 76,000 who they believe ride the streetcar now without transferring to a DART bus or train — if they begin charging a $1 fare.
Greyson, who is often critical of DART, said she didn’t buy that assumption. She said city staff and DART had "tortured this to death" when the issue of charging was straightforward.
Council members Rickey Callahan, Tennell Atkins and Lee Kleinman, the committee’s chair, seemed to agree. Callahan said he’s "all in favor of those types of vehicles, but we want to make sure people pay for that." And Kleinman told city officials after the meeting that they might as well move forward on plans for a fare, and the council could always take the fare away later if it’s a disaster.
The fare could move forward later this year or early next year after DART rolls out its new "contactless" touch-card payment system, akin to Washington’s SmarTrip card, Los Angeles’ TAP card and Chicago’s Ventra Card.
Dallas’ new Transportation Director Michael Rogers had hoped to defer any action until the city could coordinate with the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority, which runs the free M-Line trolley, and get more data about the economic impact of the streetcar line.
The streetcar was kick-started largely by a $23 million federal economic recovery grant. Rogers said he wants to have the Texas Transportation Institute analyze the benefits and property tax revenues generated by development near the streetcar, which passes by new apartment buildings and dumps passengers out on a sidewalk-poor stretch next to the construction site of the mixed-use Alamo Manhattan project.
"We can all see what’s going on out there," Rogers said, "but what kind of impact has it actually created?"
Greyson was determined, however, to see the Oak Cliff lunch crowd, Convention Center tourists and work-a-day commuters alike paying for transit.
"One part of the city shouldn’t get to ride for free while another part of the city has to pay," she said.