Dallas Area Rapid Transit's first major fare structure overhaul since 2012 will get started this week with the rollout of a major update to the transit agency's mobile payment app. The update, effective Monday, clears the way for systemwide fare and collection changes this summer. Those who struggle to cover their daily transportation costs as things are will struggle more, but DART's most faithful riders will get a bit of a reprieve with the system's new fare-capping policy.
Beginning Monday, DART riders will be able to load cash into their GoPass accounts at about 900 North Texas retailers by having a cashier scan a bar code produced by the GoPass app. Riders can then hand over their cash, which will be held in a stored value account accessible on their phones and through GoPass.org. The update will also allow those owning the available tech to access their GoPass apps via fingerprint. (This is a very good thing if you've ever struggled to type in your password to get into the app as you've chased down a bus or train.)
The new app will also add real-time bus and train tracking to its trip planner feature, giving it a leg up on a third-party apps like Transit, which have been better than DART's offering thanks to more intuitive user interfaces and a wider variety of features.
By opening up its cash payment network, DART is preparing for bigger things later this year. On Aug. 18, fares are going up systemwide. The biggest things to know are that the effective cost of a day pass will rise from $5 to $6 and a monthly pass will run $96, rather than $80. Around the same time, DART plans to debut its contactless payment card system for buses and trains.
Rates are rising about 20 percent for a couple of reasons. First, Texas law requires that all transportation agencies in the state recoup enough from fares to cover their expenses. Second, as Joe Costello, DART's senior vice president of finance, said when DART staff announced the bump, DART's 20-year plan — which includes the Cotton Belt line in North Dallas and connecting the Oak Cliff Streetcar to the McKinney Avenue Streetcar downtown — calls for a 17 percent increase in fare revenue beginning in the 2019 fiscal year. According to DART, the system sees about a 3 percent decrease in ridership whenever it raises fares.
Transit advocates and several members of the DART board pushed back against the proposed increases in February. Jon-Bertrell Killen, one of seven DART board members who voted against the hike, sympathized with riders who told the board they didn't understand why DART was trying to squeeze more money out of the city's transit-dependent population.
"I think it’s difficult for our customers to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing," he said. "There's no particular rhyme or reason that we have codified why it's 20 percent. I think that it would make sense for us to tie our fare increases to some very specific measurable index or measurable goal, whether that's wage growth or inflation or the performance of our service."
Killen and other opponents of the increases on the board were supportive of the one piece of the fare changes that could benefit those who ride every day.
In August, when the new fares become effective, those who rack up $6 in fares during a given day will ride free for the rest of the day. The same goes for those who reach the cost of a monthly pass, $96, during a given month — they'll ride free for the rest of the month. Those who get one of the contactless cards — which can be loaded through the new app or at one of the stores that provides cash reloads — will never pay more than the minimum amount necessary for their rides.
When a rider with one of the cards taps it outside a train station or as she boards a bus, DART will deduct whatever fare happens to cheapest at that time, whether it's a $3 a.m. or p.m. pass, a $2.50 single ride on a bus or a $2 midday pass good from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Having the system take care of things for the rider is much better than the current GoPass system, which leaves it up to the rider to select, buy and activate an appropriate ticket.
While the payment cards could make it possible for DART to set up an electronic barrier to train riding, eliminating one of the system's longstanding frustrations — train riders who don't pay and get off without having their tickets checked by fare inspector — an honor system will still be in place when the payment cards make their debuts. Riders with cards will be asked to tap them on readers set up at DART stations throughout North Texas, deducting the ticket costs from their balances.