More than 23 million rides are provided annually by Iowa's transit systems. Public transit service is provided in every county in Iowa. Iowa transit systems rely on state and federal transit assistance to make rides available and affordable for Iowans. Local support such as tax revenue, fares, and donations provide a large share of agencies' operating budgets.

DART brings in reinforcements in expansion debate

Thursday, January 26, 2017


By Perry Beeman | Senior Staff Writer

The Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority has asked key business and government groups to wade through politically sticky questions over how to pay for mass transit services as residents ask for more, and how DART should be governed.

It largely comes down to this: "How do you pay for the future of mass transit?" asked Amanda Wanke, DART chief engagement and communications officer. "We have heard loud and clear from the public that they want more service."

DART's online survey, part of its DART Forward 2035 planning effort, showed area residents were most interested in service that was closer to them and available for more hours. A broader survey found that the biggest portion of both current riders and others favored the most elaborate expansion of service proposed.

It's a tough debate. Area elected officials have in recent months debated how to pay for the services DART offers now, let alone a proposed expansion into more cities, rapid transit services and a system of "mobility hubs."
The commission has been trying to wrap up work on DART Forward 2035. But at the same time, the decades-long battle to keep the system afloat has bumped up against a property tax levy that is close to maxed out in places. Some area leaders have cast doubt on whether plans are too aggressive, and several asked the agency to pause work on the plans. City managers, including Scott Sanders, have said it will be tough to meet basic city service needs while also covering all of what DART envisions.
More than one local leader has suggested the answer will require local businesses, hospitals and other entities that rely on DART to deliver workers to the job, to help pay for the tab for the services.
The DART commission decided to move forward by bringing in outside assistance to analyze what to do next. The Greater Des Moines Partnership has agreed to lead an examination of possible financing models. And the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines will head an effort to consider how DART's governance structure could change. The Partnership will help with the governance debate, too.
"What this community wants is more and better transit options," Jay Byers, Partnership CEO, said in an interview. "The current funding arrangement is not sustainable, and looking at a change in the makeup of the board will be important."
"What would make sense as far as a transit system? How do you pay for it? The DART commission has decided to move forward and to find a model, and is going in a very positive direction," Byers said. "The surveys have been clear — there is an appetite for better and more transit. It needs to make financial sense. And we have to remain flexible," Byers added.
Community Foundation leaders also welcome the review.
"Through the Community Foundation's seat at the table on various community and regional planning efforts – such as Capital Crossroads and the OpportUNITY Plan – we recognize the critical role transportation plays to meet the needs of our region," said Angie Dethlefs-Trettin, chief community impact officer. "One of the unique opportunities the Community Foundation has is to provide grant support to address organizational governance, which we were privileged to do in this case. The DART Governance Task Force, through a grant-funded facilitated experience, will work to provide recommendations on the structure through which our region will address current and future transportation needs to meet economic, social and quality of life opportunities in Central Iowa."
Scott Raecker, director of the Robert D. and Billie Ray Center at Drake University, will facilitate the governance discussion with the help of Cassandra Halls, president of 2 the Top.
The Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is running models to evaluate the overall costs and benefits of expanding public transportation in the metro by analyzing what impact it will have on traffic congestion, number of drivers and wear on area roadways.
The task forces are expected to work through the spring.