At the Council's Transportation and Environment Committee Meeting, Where DART and Downtown Plan Are on the Menu

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Among the recommendation in the downtown plan to be discussed shortly: Plant "glass box" retail downtown pronto!
It's dudes in suits on parade here at City Hall this afternoon, as the Transportation and Environment Committee Meeting -- which, in due time, will finally get 'round to the Downtown Dallas 360 plan -- got rolling with Dallas Area Rapid Transit board chairman William Velasco asking his fellow board members to strut forth from the audience to the committee's O-shaped seating area. They're here to follow up on Texas/OU weekend's service, and be-suited dude Gary Thomas, director of DART, said it "went very, very well" with 174,000 trips made. Service on DART itself was down a little, but that was "by design," as they encouraged folks to take buses from the TRE at Victory Park.

"The customer service was what really impressed a lot of people," said Thomas. I invite DART riders to weigh in on this statement in the comments. Me? I've had great success riding from Baylor, near my home, to Fair Park, but that's just one stop, and I didn't go on TX/OU weekend because the misanthropy that lives in my heart is not to be trifled with.

Linda Koop asked Be-Suited Dude to proceed to his Power Point presentation about the future of paratransit services for those with disabilities. Thomas wants to outsource all operations and dispatch to a contractor, who would provide vehicles, fuel, etc.--says this is how most cities in the U.S. handle their paratransit needs, and Dallas currently only uses an out-sourcer named Veolia to cover overflow needs. "We would have no monthly fixed costs," said Thomas. It's better than an older program, wherein DART used taxis for paratransit--this time, the outside contractor would oversee the operations and quality control. It will, however, mean reductions in staff. Thomas said somewhere between 12 and 23 people will have to be "relocated." Thomas describes his paratransit time frame as "incredibly aggressive." They need to have a contract awarded by March 2011.

Then, the committee asked questions -- hurriedly, because we've got that big downtown plan to talk about.

What would the savings be, asked Tennell Atkins, in contracting versus running the service themselves? Thomas: $1.5 million per year in the operating budget, and up to $120 million in capital costs -- vehicles, specifically. Atkins also wanted some reassurance, asking "I want to make sure that you have your mind open to all the options. It look good right now, but what happen if it don't work?"

Delia Jasso, who used to work for DART, wants to see as much local, Dallas business involved as possible. If an elderly relative needs a ride to the doctor, Jasso "would hate to have her call someone in Utah to get her to the doctor." If we use local contractors--Yellow Cab is a potential provider--we're better off, she says, noting that "if you've got a presence in Dallas you understand what the Dallas needs are."

Then Jerry Allen and Ron Natinsky high-fived each other over the gold-plated, diamond-encrusted limousines that people in their districts use for public transportation when they drive back and forth between fishing for Beluga caviar at lakes of melted silver and their evening constitutionals along paths littered with emeralds and the smiles of children.

Vonciel Hill wanted to make sure that if a contractor craps out entirely, can the system be up and running in 24 hours? Thomas was like, "Uh, no, probably not." And then she wanted to know if Yellow Cab currently runs the paratransit service. And then she wanted to know if DART is doing this to save money. Do you guys remember that time when Thomas' presentation to the committee was about how much money we will save when we outsource the management of paratransit to a third party, because currently DART runs everything but the overflow itself, which it outsources to Veolia? That was a great time ... five minutes ago.

Then Dwaine Caraway brought in a list of questions to which he wants a written response. Among them: "I want to make sure that the people who are losing their jobs possibly are not 24-and-a-half years, six months from retirement, and suddenly all their commitment is washed down the drain." And, like the rest of his council members, he wants to keep citizen complaints out of his office, because he knows they'll complain to the city before they go to DART. So get your shit together, more or less, DART: "I expect my concerns to be addressed." Including a fence that needs painting somewhere. Which Thomas says DART will have painted "within the week, I'm sure."

Up next: the Blue Line Extension to UNT. Join me in the comments. It will be suspenseful! And thrilling! Hubbub! Hubbub!

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