Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority-DART
How many people do you employ/how many people at your agency? 250
How long have you worked in the industry? 12 years
How long have you been an APTA member? 12 years
What drew you to a career in public transportation?
I discovered my love of public transit as part of my grad school work at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. I had the opportunity to work in the transportation research lab, and my first project was to create a model that compared the effectiveness of coverage vs. frequency.
Basically, we wanted to provide a scientific answer to a simple question: What’s the best way to grow ridership? We compared two strategies: cover more parts of a city with bus routes, though with lower frequency service; or cover fewer parts of the city, but use major corridors and run the buses more frequently.
We found that frequency was more important than coverage in growing ridership. To me, it was a fascinating exercise. I was hooked.
What have you found to be the most valuable APTA benefit or resource—that helps you do your job?
I am a proud graduate of the 2011 Leadership APTA class. That experience has been invaluable in the progression of my career, development of leadership skills, and making new lifelong friendships. Having the ability to participate in such a great program that allows you access to so many industry leaders and experiences is a great benefit of APTA.
In addition, APTA really affords people within the public transportation industry the ability to make connections. More than anything, I learn by seeing what other people are doing. So it is incredibly valuable for me to have the opportunity at conferences and other meetings to get to know my colleagues. For most transit agencies in mid-sized cities, there are no other entities within the community that provide transportation services on the same scale, which is why it is so important to have a network to call upon.
Please explain why or how this has helped.
I was recently faced with a major dilemma. DART is building a new LEED-certified transit center in downtown Des Moines. We are using the APTA standards for the elevator in the building, but we were having the hardest time finding a heavy duty elevator that met the specification and also met 100 percent Buy America.
So I reached out to APTA and found out who wrote the standards. From there, I was told about other agencies that had recently gone through elevator procurements as part of a building construction. I contacted them and asked them how they worked through the same issue. With that information, eventually, we were able to find an elevator that met the Buy America requirement (and I also learned a lot about the Buy America standards).
In short, if I’ve got a problem, one of my first calls is to APTA or a fellow APTA member.
What do you like most about your job?
I like the public service element of it—knowing that the hard work that your entire team does every day really is a benefit to the community, improving the quality of life within the region we live. I also like the diversity of the job—having the opportunity to work with all the different departments and to see things change, for the better. I couldn’t ask for a better team; the staff at DART truly enjoys what they do and their willingness to improve upon what they do every day definitely makes it a pleasure to come to work.
Right now, DART is in a period of rapid expansion, which is very rewarding to see. As I mentioned earlier, DART is building a new transit center in downtown Des Moines, thanks to $20.5 million in state and federal grants. When it opens this fall, it will provide customers with indoor waiting areas, public restrooms, customer service desk—amenities that, while seemingly basic, are not available on our current open-air transit mall.
What is unique about your agency/business (what would readers be surprised to learn)?
Living in a Midwest city, people seem to be focused on their cars, but there is a tradition of public transit within Des Moines that still percolates today. Little known fact: Des Moines, Iowa, was one of the first cities in the country with electric streetcars. Why? A clever businessman used electric streetcars to skirt a charter agreement that the city had with one of his competitors, giving this competitor the exclusive right to operate animal-powered vehicles on city streets. With animals off limits to him, this entrepreneur went electric.
Today, there is still a group of streetcar buffs who regularly meet to keep alive the city’s transit history. In addition, a majority of DART’s customers are choice riders.
Make sure you see Elizabeth's video now that you've read this!