Mesquite Is Ready to Bail on DART, but the Agency's Bending Over Backward to Keep It

Categories: Transportation

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After three years of bus service, Mesquite, DART's first non-member city partner, appears set to spurn the agency for Star Transit, a private bus company that serves Balch Springs, Kaufmann County and Rockwall County.

City officials said the potential move stems from DART's changing its policies for non-member cities and Mesquite's need to maintain funding for its in-house transportation service for the elderly and disabled.

In 2011, DART approved providing a la carte services to non-member cities where the transit agency doesn't collect a 1 percent sales tax. Mesquite, which turned down joining DART at the organization's inception in 1983, agreed to pay DART about $300,000 a year for a single bus route that carries passengers to a light rail station.

The next year, DART changed its policy to mandate that cities paying for individual services hold an election to approve the agency's 1 cent sales tax in the fourth year of that service.

Mesquite says the potential cost of voters choosing to join DART is more than the city can handle.

"The amount of resources it would take to join DART exceeds our abilities," Mesquite communications manager Wayne Larson says. "We would have to reduce or cut other services to afford to join DART."

Mesquite's sales tax rate is already 8.25 percent, the most allowed by state law.

Under Mesquite's proposed agreement with Star Transit, the company would take over the current DART route, which shuttles commuters between Hanby Stadium and the Green Line's Lawnview Station, as well as the city's in-house transportation services.

Mesquite residents would still be linked to DART, without the city giving the agency a dime.

"Star would need to make the arrangements with DART," Larson says. "In theory, [DART] would still be getting revenue that they hadn't been getting even prior to our non-member agreement."

DART plans to try to keep Mesquite in the fold and is working on a plan to sway the city before its final vote.

As of Monday, when Assistant City Manager Jerry Dittman made his latest presentation to the Mesquite City Council, the city had not received anything on paper from DART, so Dittman's presentation focused solely on information about the potential benefits of Star.

"The staff is currently looking at what we may propose to Mesquite, [the staff] is trying to decide if it's something that can or can't be done." DART media representative Mark Ball says.

"We're still evaluating different options of how we can provide additional value to Mesquite to continue to be part of an integrated and coordinated transit system," Todd Plesko, DART's vice president of planning and development says.

Plesko says the DART board of directors will consider changing the four-year election requirement in the fall. In the interim, pending board approval, DART plans to offer Mesquite a three-year contract that would not be subject to any election requirements.

Should Mesquite turn the proposal down, DART will have to evaluate how to deal with the city's riders.

"What does it mean to have DART service, and are there creative ways to have DART service in ways that leverage all of DART's assets in a way that helps riders? DART's interest is in providing improved transportation throughout the region," Plesko says, "not just in the 13 [member] cities."

Doing that is difficult when DART members have contributed so much to the founding, development and maintenance of the system, Plesko says.

"We're trying to find a way that's a win-win for everybody," he says, "in a way that's respectful of the investment that's been made by those people that have been part of DART for all these years."

Without finding that correct balance, DART riders who actually pay for the service might feel the brunt of Mesquite's move.

"DART's concern is that everybody has their own little system and they all work just to dump passengers into the DART system in a way that we can't meet the demand, we have no resources to handle the problem," Plesko says.

Nevertheless, Plesko is hopeful for DART and Mesquite's long-term prospects.

"There's probably got to be a way to skin this cat, I think," he says.

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29 comments
melissa.davis6
melissa.davis6

DART is not worth the $$ for the 30 - 40 who ride it from the Mesquite stop.

TeresainTX
TeresainTX

Things that bothers me about this discussion....do we really want to base our business decisions of today on rules that were created 30 years ago because others would feel disrespected? Is it right to fault the current administration in Mesquite for wanting to right the wrong of previous administrations and find a way to join DART? Mesquite citizens need public transportation. I believe having DART in the city will expand new business recruitment and allow our low-mod income citizens to find more opportunities for employment. I agree with Mr. Plesko. We must continue to dialogue and reach a solution with DART.

BushwoodSmithie
BushwoodSmithie

The real cause of the problem is DART's unsustainable business model. They have the lowest farebox recovery ratio. of any paid transit system in the world.


Ideally, fares should (at least) cover operating costs and tax revenues cover capital expenditures (the cost of purchasing new trains and buses, new rail lines, etc...). But DART is so inefficient that fares only cover about 15% of operating costs and none of the capital costs. I've heard indirectly that DART fares don't do much more than cover the costs charging a fare and handling the money, though I don't know if this is true.


Because they're so inefficient, DART simply can't afford to handle more riders without outside funds, such as the $700 million the feds siphoned out of the Highway Trust Fund to pay for the green line. You can't buy more $100,000 buses or million dollar rail cars when they don't generate enough revenue to pay for even the gas or electricity to run them.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

I used to bend over backwards for my employer, and all it ever got me was forced early retirement.

doublecheese
doublecheese

The small city of Rowlett started with DART in 1983.  Has put about 100 million into the system.  Finally got service from DART a couple of years ago.  Makes total sense.  I can't imagine why Mesquite wouldn't want to spend that kind of money for very little service.

bryanr01
bryanr01

Mesquite opted out of DART way back when, so its tax rate was always 1% less than the surrounding cities.  The idea was that people would go there buy cars, etc. rather than Dallas and other DART cities.  I didn't know that they later jacked up their tax rate to the maximum without including DART.  I wonder what they blew the money on instead? 

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Big Kitty is quite put out by the last line of the article, and demands an apology from Mr. Plesko. 

Anon.
Anon.

Mesquite is not being honest.

Cities can use that one percent of sales tax to contribute to something like DART, or they can use it for economic development funding, known as 4A/4B. If the one percent sales tax is used for a 4A/4B ED fund then it is often bonded against, which Mesquite has done. So until those bonds are repaid Mesquite's one percent sales tax is already pledged.

That's why DART's policy says that cities in Mesquite's position can join DART, get the benefits of city wide bus service immediately, and the one percent sales tax is reallocated to DART as the existing bonds are paid off. It is not a requirement to immediately begin paying DART that full one percent and Jerry Dittman and Mayor John Monaco both know that very well. They are implying that joining DART would mean immediately reallocating all of that one percent sales tax to DART, which is a deliberate lie.

Now that 13 cities have built the country's longest light rail system Mesquite finally sees that regional mass transit benefits them and they want in. They didn't want to pay for it, but now they want to use it, while still not paying full price for it. Sure they have been paying for what little service they've got right now, but that only pays for the cost of that one bus route, and contributes nothing to the continued build out of the DART system as outlined in the 2030 plan.

Monaco and Dittman both want Mesquite to essentially freeload on the cities that built DART.

If Mesquite goes with that other bus service then hopefully DART member cities will restrict where those busses can load and unload in their cities and DART will assess an appropriate impact fee if one or more of those bus routes drops passengers off at any DART facility. One way or another Mesquite must pay its fair share for regional transit connectivity.

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

People still go to Mesquite?

wcvemail
wcvemail

@BushwoodSmithie

So what happens next, and when? I'm serious -- at what point do the Feds quit sending large checks, which seems to be the only thing enabling any growth. If I were Houston or Austin or San Antonio, this would come up in conversation with my representatives, wouldn't it?

doublecheese
doublecheese

@bryanr01 Declining property values, and declining property tax revenues.  That's where the money went.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@bryanr01 car sales wouldnt matter, you pay state tax of 6.25% on cars, no matter what city you buy it in.  The state dictates that the local option can only be 1% unless voted on by the citizens.  Mesquite has chosen to vote twice to raise its sales tax to the state max local of 2% but that last 1/2% must be used for Transportation Improvements, Public Safety Improvements and Public Parks and Recreation Improvements

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz

What is this world coming to?

You can't hardly swing a dead cat around anymore without hitting somebody that's offended about something or other . . .

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@doublecheese @bryanr01 also since they raised that sales tax that last time, to get voters to vote yes, they lowered the property tax rate

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

Believe it or not, Town East Mall didn't used to be a shithole. And that bowling alley was fun too. Big Town I think?

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@P1Gunter when I worked shoe sales back in the day Town East Mall was the crown jewel of our company in DFW.  That store made tons of money and every asst manager/manager wanted to transfer to that store.  Unfortunately these day that mall leaves a lot to be desired.  Then again most classic malls do

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@TheCredibleHulk @P1Gunter couldnt think of any thing hipster to call them, and I was at a loss for what outdoor malls are called these days, village, town square, I have no clue.  I just tend to avoid them all

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@ScottsMerkin @TheCredibleHulk @P1Gunter

Just struck me as funny.

Almost everything I grew up with from the Coca-Cola I drank to the rock & roll I listened to is now 'Classic' I guess the standard indoor concourse mall qualifies for that description as well.

Holy shit, am I getting old.

Incidentally, my first foray into a Dallas area mall was Christmas season 2004 and Town East was the mall - I have never returned.

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