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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis December 16, 2011
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New Destinations Ahead; Opportunities Abound
BY GARY C. THOMAS, President/Executive Director, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, and Chair, APTA

One of the great parts of our business is there’s always a new opportunity. New buses are coming on line, new rail service is being introduced, and new destinations are being established that will help us introduce transit to even more customers.

One of the great challenges of our business is doing those things with tight or diminishing financial resources. I don’t know if there’s a transit agency that hasn’t experienced those things this year. The good news is we’ve managed to work through those challenges and make strong steps forward.

Continued Growth
Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) began 2011 riding the momentum of an historic light rail project, the completion of the 28-mile, 20 station Green Line. Now at 72 miles and the nation’s longest system, DART Rail continues attracting new customers and creating new connections to major employment, education, and entertainment centers. Work went on through the year on even more new rail. The first two sections of the Orange Line, which will go west from the Green Line, are scheduled to open in July and December 2012. An extension of the Blue Line, northeast of Dallas, will also open in December 2012.

Construction is scheduled to begin in 2012 on the final section of the Orange Line, which includes a station at DFW Airport. We'll open that station in 2014. We’re also making good progress on additional Blue Line extensions that will create a new rail connection to the Dallas campus of one of our area’s fastest-growing colleges, the University of North Texas. DART is advancing plans for even more rail service, including a second line through downtown Dallas and an east-west connection that would link the Red and Green Lines to DFW Airport.

Buses Remain the Backbone
More customers use our buses daily than any other single group. Their ride is due for a significant upgrade. During 2011 we finalized preparations for our new bus fleet. The first article of our new 40-foot buses built by North American Bus Industries just rolled off the assembly floor. Not only did I get to see it, they even let me get behind the wheel. We'll introduce this state-of-the-art compressed natural gas bus to our customers in early 2012 and I can't wait for them to see it. We'll also introduce a new fleet of smaller buses manufactured by ARBOC Specialty Vehicles in 2012. It's part of our ongoing effort to put the right sized vehicles in place and deliver more efficient service.

Customer Service Starts with Communication
Our customers expect to know all about their trip all the time. They want information on their desktop, their laptop, and their cell phone and tablet. This summer we completed an update of our main internet web site. The updated architecture puts customer information front and center in a new and inviting way. It also makes it easier than ever to connect with our social media platforms and to register for service updates.

Desktop versions of DART’s “Where’s My Bus?”® and “Where’s My DART Stop?”®, were developed by our staff for customers who have enjoyed using those tools on their web-enabled mobile phones and tablets.  “Where’s My Bus?”® gives customers a near-real time estimate of when their bus will arrive. They can use it to follow the progress of their bus via a Google map as it approaches their stop. “Where’s My DART Stop?”® helps them locate the nearest stop and transit service. This desktop version is based on an interactive Google map with street view to show the stop and its surroundings. Customers enter an address and city to obtain results providing route information and estimated and scheduled times for the nearest transit service to their location.

2012 Will Be Busy
So much has been done in DART's comparatively brief history, but we have so many more things we want and need to do. Not only will we continue to deliver the service our cities expect, we're being challenged to help cities outside of our service area connect to transit. This will be a major topic of discussion in our region during the year. Leaders in those communities are coming to realize what we've known all along: public transportation takes us where we want to go.

For many agencies, local funding is uncertain or limited. For all of us, federal funding remains a struggle. Our industry deserves a well-funded, multi-year, multimodal transportation bill. After so many extensions we're way past due. I know our industry will work hard to secure the funding our systems need and our customers deserve.

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