DART considers changes after bus service halts freeze for first time ever

The head of Dallas Area Rapid Transit said winter storms last month caused the agency to consider improvements to its light rail system, public communication and the criteria used to determine when to suspend service.

DART President and CEO Nadine Lee told Dallas City Council members on Wednesday that she was upholding a decision in early February to shut down all bus and train services in freezing conditions, citing the safety of passengers and employees. But DART should have restarted the service sooner and done more outreach to send notifications to people who aren’t actively online, she said.

The regional transit agency suspended light rail service and limited bus operations Feb. 2, the day before winter weather hit North Texas. The bus service was closed at noon on February 4 and continued until February 6. It was the first time DART suspended bus service in its 39-year history, blinding riders who rely on the service. Rising temperatures melted much of the ice on February 5.

Lee said Wednesday that the agency needs to “learn from this and move on.”

“Nobody was happy about that. Nobody really thought it was a good idea,” Lee said. “We had to choose from a number of bad situations.”

But the decision affected thousands of people. Council member Tennell Atkins said he has received calls from workers fearful of losing their jobs and employers unsure they can operate. Council member Cara Mendelsohn said there was at least one transit station that didn’t have a notification that buses weren’t running.

She described the decision as “awful”, “unacceptable” and “unfair to our residents”.

“While you might think of the whole region and your whole service area, the reality is that ‘D’ for DART stands for ‘Dallas’,” said Mendelsohn, who represents Far North Dallas. “Our residents deserve to have transportation. They need it and they’re counting on you.

She said it will be difficult to convince residents to become more dependent on public transit if the service is unreliable.

Lee said DART plans to consider improving its light rail system to operate in winter weather, better defining conditions that require service to be stopped, and doing more to keep the public informed in real time of changes. on duty.

She also said DART would consider changing bus routes to allow them to continue operating and extending operating hours to accommodate more people in inclement weather.

Lee said she and other agency officials decided to shut down bus service because vehicles were getting stuck on icy roads and workers were getting injured trying to free the buses. Ice on the tracks increased the risk of trains running off their tracks or being unable to move, and problems with the overhead lines could have cut power to the carriages.

Lee said 93 buses were stuck for a three-hour period at the end of February 3, tow truck services stopped responding to calls due to icy streets and the situation stranded some passengers. DART had about 190 buses in service at the time. The agency has about 130 operator vacancies, Lee said.

DART officials decided around 6:30 a.m. the next morning to suspend all midday bus and train services after other buses became stranded during the morning run, she said. Weather forecasts at the time called for freezing temperatures and slippery road conditions until February 5.

DART didn’t notify the public of the service change until 8:45 a.m. Lee said officials knew passengers who used public transit earlier in the day would have to find other ways to get home.

She said after the service shut down, DART employees called Uber and Lyft drivers to pick up passengers. She said they had provided 127 rides through February 6.

Other DART workers in vans and transit police officers in patrol cars picked up nearly 590 additional customers waiting at bus and train stations.

DART’s shared transportation service for people with disabilities continued to operate for people who needed travel for medical purposes, she said. The service carried out nearly 950 trips between February 3 and 6 for people who needed dialysis treatment.

During last week’s winter storm, she said the agency decided conditions were milder and allowed her to keep buses operating on a reduced schedule, she said. Lee said only 23 buses were stranded between Feb. 23 and Feb. 25, and DART employees and officers picked up more than 785 customers after service ended.

Melvin Z. Madore