by Shardae White
DeAann Lax was glad to see that one of the DART GoPass Tap cards her team had given out was already helping someone.
At Aunt Bette’s Community Pantry, a grocery store-like food pantry at St. Philip’s Community Center, she watched a South Dallas neighbor breathe a sigh of relief that he didn’t have to choose what to leave behind this time. Knowing he had a ride would make carrying his haul a lot easier, and he was able to take all of his groceries with him.
He used DART’s South Dallas GoLink pilot program to travel from Aunt Bette’s to his South Dallas home. DART extended the pilot until Jan. 21, 2022, allowing South Dallas neighbors more opportunities to try it out. The pilot launched this year on April 26, and was scheduled to run for only six months but in September, DART’s board of directors voted to extend the timeframe.
“We encourage everyone to try it out and see if it suits their needs,” says Gordon Shattles, DART’s director of external relations.
Short distances but long rides
DART has a strong presence in South Dallas with bus and train routes intended to take passengers from station to station or stop to stop, but residents have found the fixed routes can take too long when they travel shorter distances within the neighborhood, like going to the grocery store or an appointment.
Because fixed routes are not always accessible or practical, neighborhood leaders advocated for a GoLink pilot to address South Dallas’ transportation issues. GoLink programs have been implemented in small areas across Dallas-Fort Worth. Using a ride-share model like Uber or Lyft, riders request a GoLink ride and are picked up and dropped off directly at their location, bypassing bus stops and train stations altogether. DART uses dedicated GoLink vehicles and also partners with UberPool to get riders to and from their destinations.
The intention of DART’s GoLink program in all other areas is to easily get riders to a nearby rail station in areas where bus routes are scarce. That’s not the case with the pilot in South Dallas, where residents generally have access to service with four stations, 10 bus routes and 300 bus stops operating in the area. Still, leaders found there was a significant need for more accessible transportation within the neighborhood.
Will the pilot become permanent?
DART is tracking how many riders use the South Dallas pilot to measure its success in our neighborhood. Shattles says DART is actively comparing South Dallas numbers to GoLink pilots in southeast Garland and south Irving, both of which launched in October 2020.
In January, when the pilot ends, DART’s board of directors will reevaluate the program’s effectiveness. To be considered successful, the program needs to transport 21 unique riders a week, Shattles says.
The numbers change weekly. For example, for the week of Nov. 1 through 5, South Dallas’s pilot had nine riders — down from two weeks before when the pilot saw 21 total riders. Shattles says that if the program doesn’t attract the ridership DART hoped for, that doesn’t mean an automatic failure, but the appointed board of directors will analyze the data and decide how they should move forward in finding transportation solutions for South Dallas.
Because the DART board will have the final say on whether the pilot becomes permanent, Dallas Free Press’ made attempts over several weeks to listen to board members’ perspectives. A scheduled interview was canceled by Dominique P. Torres, who chairs the economic opportunity and diversity committee, and we reached out to other board members via Nancy Johnson, the director of board support, but didn’t receive any response.
GoLink isn’t the only curb-to-curb model DART uses. They just announced the new Joppa Rides service, funded by the City of Dallas, that allows Joppa residents to use the Uber app to book two free rides per day to one of 15 neighborhood spots. Several locations are convenience grocery or drug stores; Bushman Elementary School and the VA Medical Center also are on the list, as are Southern Skates Roller Rink and Sweet Georgia Brown Bar-B-Que Buffet. The service is available to Joppa neighbors from 5 a.m.-11 p.m. seven days a week, “which coincides with most DART fixed-route bus, rail and paratransit service,” the announcement notes.
That’s 91 hours more per week than the South Dallas GoLink pilot, which operates Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. For community leaders like Lax, who coordinates the South Dallas Fair Park Transportation Initiative, the operation times are one of the pilot’s limitations. The hours significantly limit neighbors’ ability to use the service, she says, because residents are typically in work or school between 9 a.m.- 4 p.m., and when they need rides from those places, the service has already stopped for the day.
“If Lincoln students try to use the service to get to school, they’re already late,” Lax says.
Low ridership = lack of communication, technology?
Another limitation, Lax says, is that not enough people know about the pilot to truly take advantage of its services. Her team, in partnership with St. Philip’s and DART, has made efforts to make the community aware of the service and to get people riding.
In October, Lax and former councilwoman Diane Ragsdale, who chairs the transportation initiative, and Carol Wise, DART executive vice president and COO, distributed GoPass Tap cards preloaded with $6 and helped set up rides at both Aunt Bette’s Community Pantry and Vogel Alcove homeless services center. Their goal was to raise awareness among South Dallas neighbors and allow them to start using the service right away. They handed out 25 cards to neighbors at Aunt Bette’s Community Pantry and left 62 cards for social workers at Vogel Alcove Homeless Services to distribute as needed.
Between now and the pilot’s end, they hope to coordinate a GoLink Day, when South Dallas residents are encouraged to use the program to meet their transportation needs, which they hope would increase use and let other neighbors know of the option.
According to Shattles, DART has used various forms of communication to let residents know about the GoLink pilot, including outreach on social media, advertisements in the Dallas Examiner and Dallas Weekly, and distribution of more than 10,000 print fliers in the area.
Still, community members say DART could do a better job of getting the news to them directly. Kim Holmes, Vogel Alcove’s director of family services, says DART could emulate Lax’s example and extend their outreach to local agencies. She says Lax’s October visit and presentation were the first she, her team and their clients had heard about the GoLink pilot.
“She has a good idea, reaching out to different organizations, and I think that they need to put more effort into that because a great majority of our families that utilize this service are low-income families. That’s their only mode of transportation,” she said of DART’s bus and rail system. She believes advertising the program on the buses and trains also would be an effective way to reach neighbors like those Vogel Alcove serves.
Holmes says connecting with community organizations directly will also help the initiative, because they already are eager to find solutions.
“How can we as social workers help to expand this program? What do we need to do?” Holmes says. “How can we play a part in helping the community see that this program is needed?”
Her work in the community has shown Lax that GoLink can feel inaccessible to some South Dallas residents because rides are most easily booked using DART’s GoPass smartphone app, and not all residents have access to a smartphone. However, South Dallas passengers can also schedule a GoLink ride by calling DART at 214.515.7272. Rides scheduled over the phone must be same-day trips.
Though DART has implemented contactless, digital payment options to make riding during the pandemic safer, riders can still purchase and reload GoPass Tap cards using cash or debit cards at retailers including Fiesta, 7-Eleven and ACE Cash Express.
Despite the program’s uncertain future, community members still remain hopeful about the GoLink pilot. Holmes says the service provides more opportunities for neighbors like those she serves.
“It’s a wonderful program,” she says. “And I’m hoping that the program sticks around. That it’s not something they’re going to get rid of. I hope that’s not the case.”
DART Tap for Half program
What is it?
Eligible riders can register to receive a discounted GoPass Tap card for half of the normal fare. The regular South Dallas GoLink fare is $2.50 per pick-up, and becomes $1.25 per pick-up with the discounted GoPass Tap card.
Who can sign up?
Participants of certain assistance programs — including CHIP, SNAP and WIC among others — can enroll in the Tap for Half program. Find more information and a full list of eligible programs here or call 972.482.6491.
How to sign up:
Have proof of assistance participation and a head-shot style photo handy. Go to https://dartaccess.dart.org/dtappass to apply. Once an application is received, it can take up to 15 business days to receive the discounted card.