Polk City council hears about challenges for DART in the future

T.K. WestContributing Writer

In honor of celebrating 10 years of existence, Steve Von Oort, Polk County Supervisor; Elizabeth Presutti, CEO of Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART); and Amanda Wanke, Chief Engagement and Communications Officer for DART presented the Polk City city council with updates, along with a future projection for the regional transit system.

After giving a brief history of how DART came to be, Oort addressed DART as a whole, answering the questions, “How did we get to we are today? And, how are we doing?”

“DART is just not busses running around Polk County. It’s a way of connecting people to their jobs. How do we connect those people? And, how do we connect those people with opportunities?” Oort stated.

He then went on to address the challenges that come with funding such a program.

“One of the biggest challenges with this is how do you fund it,” Oort said. “Federal funding was a big piece of the pie 10-15 years ago for public transit. And, it keeps shrinking and shrinking and shrinking. Des Moines Area Regional Transit is unique, because we are a regional transit authority. How do we take the weight of property tax away and find that new revenue stream that we can continue to fund DART to grow?”

Currently, DART offers three primary services. The fixed route system offers a regular schedule with a fixed pattern. The RideShare program offers commuters with similar travel patterns the opportunity to share rides in a DART vanpool. And, the Paratransit Service provides door-to-door services for senior citizens and persons with disabilities.

So, then, how has the DART program changed since its start 10 years ago?

“We have added bike racks on all of our busses. We were able to fund and construct DART central station in downtown and replace the Walnut Street Transit Mall. And, then we have done a lot in technology. So, we’ve installed automatic vehicle location system technology on all of our busses. So, now our customers can track all of our busses by their phone, by the internet and through apps. You can also call and get real time information,” Presutti stated.

“Uber and Lyft weren’t around five years ago,” Wanke added, “IPhones have been around less than 10 years. The world and expectations around technology and around transportation are changing, as is our community.”

It is these constant changes in the culture of the community that will drive the future of DART. The challenge for the program will be about how DART continues to meet the people’s needs while developing a funding mechanism that does not continuously stream from increased property taxes.

“The formula is imperfect,” Presutti stated. “The challenge that we’re facing is that some of our larger member communities are approaching the cap. Once they cap, then it’s a race to the top for everybody else. We recognize it’s a problem and an issue and something we are working to address, and we’re working with the commission to figure out what the best solution is.”

In addition to discussing city transportation needs, the council also voted unanimously on funding for the 2016 Street Repair Project (a project encompassing a list of 15 locations throughout the Polk City Area). With this funding, the city will be able to complete a list of maintenance either this fall or spring that has been outstanding for quite some time.

The meeting finished with an update from Technology Director Jake Schreier.

“Last Thursday, I had a RGIS next generation 911 quality control workshop,” Schreier said. “The second you call in on the next generation, 911, you are actually generating a location that you are calling from. So that way if you have a dropped call, if you have something happen, they can still at least have a location to be responding to. Polk City is in the top 10 of data accuracy. It’s 99.41 percent accurate.”