Rethinking Delaware’s public transit

Possible changes in Delaware’s DART bus service will be discussed in a series of public hearings that start today in Kent and Sussex County.

Combine increased demand for service with rising labor costs and add in static bus fares over 20 years and you have a recipe for bus service that has required a major subsidy from state taxpayers.  Now, DART is examining changes in paratransit and maybe even fares as part of a new evaluation of how the state provides transit service.

Bus fare in New Castle County is just $1.15 for a one-way trip.  That rate has been in place since 1989.  In Kent and Sussex, one-way fares are just one dollar.  That’s much lower than the regional average.  DART’s labor costs over the past two decades have gone up 73%.

While the regular fixed-route bus service has had a major impact on DART’s costs, the system’s paratransit service for Delawareans with disabilities has had an even bigger effect.  While paratransit service represents just 7.8% of DART’s ridership, those trips make up 45.4% of the transit budget.  Nationally, states spend an average of just 10.9% of their transit budget on paratransit service.  

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According to a presentation distributed by DART to explain the challenges, changes must be made in the way the state delivers transit services. “[The Delaware Transit Corporation] is exploring every option in order to establish a ‘right fit’ transit system that can meet the needs of its customers while operating within a realistic framework that can be maintained over the long haul and expanded in response to growing demand.”

One of the biggest changes will likely be for paratransit service.  That’s because that state has gone far beyond the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act to serve disabled Delawareans.  The ADA only requires the state to provide “comparable transportation” for residents with disabilities who live within three-fourths of a mile of a local fixed route.  But Delaware’s paratransit buses currently provides service to Delawareans statewide, regardless of where they live.  

It’s not immediately known what direction the changes coming to the state’s transit service will take, but DART will present the issues the state’s bus service is facing in a series of information sessions.  The first two are scheduled for today in Georgetown and Dover.  The meetings move to New Castle County on Wednesday with hearings at the Newark Free Library from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and at the Wilmington Double Tree Hotel from 5 to 8 p.m.  On Thursday, one session will be held at the Lewes Public Library from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.

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