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DART making more than token cuts

02:41 PM CDT on Saturday, October 4, 2003
By TONY HARTZEL / The Dallas Morning News

Maybe DART should bring back the bunny ears.

The transit agency has dropped its latest downtown circulator bus route and 15 other routes because of low ridership and sales tax revenue shortfalls. The routes, which will stop running Monday, have been around for at least a year. But the downtown route has been tried in various forms and scrapped many times over the years.

First came the Hop-A-Bus, which leapt onto the downtown scene in 1978 when the old Dallas Transit System painted whiskers on old buses and slapped yard-long bunny ears on them to boot. Instantly recognizable, they forged an identity that many still remember.

But they and other circulator bus services that followed have proved to be no match for light-rail trains, which started running in downtown in 1996.

"We've tried just about everything," said Tim Newby, assistant vice president for Dallas Area Rapid Transit. "We have admittedly struggled with a downtown circulator. But we do have those bunny ears around here somewhere."

Downtown workers should look for Route 8, which runs down Young Street from Union Station before heading down Ervay and St. Paul streets. In addition, Route 60 runs down Main Street, but not as often as the last circulator bus that ran from the Arts District to the West End.

Other service cuts are spread throughout the region. Routes that serve Dallas Love Field, East Plano, Garland, Richardson, southwest Dallas, Addison and Farmers Branch will be cut. Thirty-nine other routes have been modified. Light-rail service during middays will drop from every 15 minutes to every 20 minutes.

Route 539 buses that ran from the Lovers Lane station to Dallas Love Field have been eliminated, meaning southbound transit users will have to spend an extra 13 minutes riding downtown and catching the No. 39 bus to the airport. But when the agency cut a route to the Potter's House church in southwest Dallas, it modified other routes to keep service running for the 100 Sunday morning riders.

In some cases, other routes will be available for bus passengers. In eastern Plano, North Dallas and Farmers Branch, DART will launch an on-call bus service that costs more but offers flexible pickup times and locations.

DART also has eliminated trolley buses that served light-rail stations and employment centers in Plano and Richardson. The economic slowdown led to the elimination of the Richardson trolley buses that served the Telecom Corridor. The transit agency will continue to work with the city and employers to try to develop new service, Mr. Newby said.

"Having a lot of vacant buildings in the telecom area limits our ability to do something," he said.

An estimated 3,000 riders a day will stop using DART because of the route changes, roughly 2 percent of DART's total ridership. The cuts will save the agency about $14 million a year.

"We've held off making these adjustments for two years since we've started to see sales tax revenue decline," Mr. Newby said. "We're always reducing some service, but the scale is larger this time."

For more information about changes, call 214-979-1111.

• TollTag users, take note: Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport now accepts the same electronic toll payment as used on area toll roads.

The airport has dedicated TollTag lanes that will deduct parking charges under $10 from an active TollTag account balance. The tag account must be tied to an active credit card to be used at D/FW.

If more than $10, the charge will be billed directly to the credit card associated with the tag account. On Monday, TollTags also can be used on toll roads in the Houston area.