|DART bus cuts, rail delay likely
Big sales-tax shortfall also means hundreds of layoffs are
By TONY HARTZEL Transportation Writer
Published April 30, 2003
Dallas Area Rapid Transit probably will lay off hundreds
of employees, cut bus service and delay light-rail construction
by at least three years to cover an impending $48 million
Most of the cuts to bring next year's budget down from $342
million will affect bus routes, with the most drastic option
affecting 116 of 135 routes. And DART officials all but committed
Tuesday to a plan to delay light-rail construction by at least
In October, DART officials warned that if revenues did not
increase, a light-rail expansion delay of about 18 months
to two years might be necessary. But the agency's president
recommended a further one-year delay Tuesday.
The budget shortfall will have DART board members deciding
over the next few months which service to reduce more - light
rail or bus. The transit agency, which held a budget work
session Tuesday at a commuter-rail station, will adopt a budget
"I feel very strongly we need to have a minimal impact
on bus service," board chairman Robert Pope of Plano
said. "There is going to be some impact on the [rail]
There are four options of cutting bus service, with a savings
of $14 million at the low end and $29 million at the high
end. Cuts at the highest level would limit rail expansion
delays to two to three years in most places. For example,
a light-rail line servicing Dallas/Fort Worth International
Airport slated two years ago to open in 2010 would have a
projected opening of 2014.
"I don't feel too comfortable going past the lowest
level [of bus cuts]," said DART President and Executive
Director Gary Thomas. "I don't want to see us delay anything,
but my sense is we need to preserve what we have."
The bad budget news marks the third straight year that sales-tax
revenue has failed to reach expected levels. Its projected
$294 million budget for 2003-04 would be almost equal to the
agency's budget total in 1997.
DART gets about 88 percent of its operating revenue from
sales taxes, leaving it susceptible to economic downturns.
The agency expects sales-tax revenues this year to be 7.3
percent lower than predictions in the current budget.
About 4,600 riders a day would be affected under the least-severe
round of bus service cuts. The bus service cuts also would
result in the elimination of 300 to 500 jobs.
Bus operators could be asked to forgo their pay raises next
year, saving the agency $5.2 million. Some employees also
could be offered early retirement.
In addition, proposals call for light-rail service to be
trimmed to 20-minute intervals during nonpeak hours. The agency
offers 15-minute service during mid-days.
DART should renegotiate its leases and contracts with its
unions, not take away service from people who might need it,
said board member Bill Velasco. "We're looking at the
wrong side of the equation," he said, noting that the
sluggish economy means that more people are riding transit.
Cutting bus service drastically will leave the agency in
a precarious position, some board members said, adding that
they also are not willing to go beyond the lowest level of
Instead, they targeted what they perceived to be a large
administrative staff. Current budget recommendations call
for cutting $11 million in administrative expenses, the equivalent
of 103 jobs. Board members want the agency to look at deeper
cuts, including an option that would eliminate 164 jobs and
save $17 million a year.
In tight budget times, DART must strike a balance between
bus service and rail service, and between Dallas and its suburbs,
many of which have been awaiting light-rail expansion for
With more rail delays, "the suburbs are going to start
talking about secession again. I don't want that," said
board member Dick Watkins of Dallas.
Cities can hold votes every six years on whether to opt out
of the transit agency. The next chance for elections is in
about five years.
Suburbs have shown patience on rail construction delayed by
revenue shortfalls, Mr. Pope said, "but they also expect
us to operate as efficiently as possible. I think they recognize
that we need to maintain our core business."
Suburban DART board members said Tuesday that they want the
agency to consider raising its standard for minimum number
of passengers on bus routes so that more routes could be cut.
Savings from those cuts could be used to speed up light-rail