<!--:es-->DART ridership increasing along with gas Record increases in the price of gasoline<!--:-->

DART ridership increasing along with gas Record increases in the price of gasoline

Is up 9% to 10% over the same time a year ago

DART ridership increasing along with gas

Record increases in the price of gasoline have boosted ridership for Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

Ridership on DART’s light-rail and bus service is up 9% to 10% over the same time a year ago, according to Doug Allen, DART’s executive vice president of planning and development.

«I think it has a lot to do with the price of gas,» Allen said.

The impact is being felt throughout DART’s 13-city network, he added, as a number of the agency’s transit parking lots have begun filling up.

Also notable: increased usage of the agency’s long-running van-pool program, which supplies vans to residents looking to car-pool with others.

Because of the heightened interest, the agency recently signed a new contract for 85 vans with Enterprise Rent-A-Car — an increase of about 10 vans over the number provided in the previous contract.

Enterprise supplies the vehicles, maintenance and insurance, while DART matches up riders. DART funds 8% of the program’s costs, while the North Central Texas Council of Governments pays 40% and passengers pick up the rest.

«With the price of gas going up, we’ve seen a big increase in requests for that in the last couple months,» Allen said. «We started to see that when gas hit about $2.65 a gallon. Now it’s flirting with $3. But $2.65 was the tipping point for the latest increase in interest.»

The average price of gasoline at the retail pump for the third quarter is expected to settle in at $2.57 a gallon, according to statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That’s up about 68 cents from the third quarter of 2004, EIA said.

This year, the week of Sept. 6 alone saw a record 46 cents-per-gallon increase, to $3.07 a gallon, EIA said. Compared to the same time a year ago, the retail price of gasoline has logged a record increase of $1.22 a gallon.

EIA, however, is predicting that if the petroleum industry recovers reasonably from Hurricane Katrina’s Gulf Coast disruptions, the U.S. will start to see some pump price decreases.

Under that scenario, fourth-quarter gas prices could swing to an average as low as $2.58 a gallon, making the retail average $2.32 for 2005.

The EIA report was made prior to Hurricane Rita’s landfall on the coasts of Texas and Louisiana.

Changing needs

Even so, DART is prepared with additional van-pool vehicles should demand continue to increase.

Despite the ridership increases, DART hasn’t restarted its Telecom Corridor trolley buses, which were removed from service after the tech bust worked like a neutron bomb to evacuate that northeast-Richardson office district.

«Ridership needs have changed, and we’re changing with them,» DART spokesman Jeff Hampton said. «Most of the ridership increase is on the light-rail system and the express-bus routes. It’s not all surging back in the Telecom Corridor.

«But we’re monitoring that region and (adding) service where it makes sense.»

Meantime DART is working with employers and building managers to create partnerships encouraging mass transit use, he said.

For example, Crescent Property Management is partnering with DART on a 50-50 deal to supply shuttles between two Telecom Corridor properties and various DART rail stations, Hampton said.

At the same time, on some under-performing bus routes in Richardson and Plano, DART has replaced buses with a customized, «On-Call» shuttle service.

Riders in «on-call» zones can telephone for service. Vans then pick the riders up at their homes or offices and drive them to a DART rail station, bus transit center, shopping center or other destination within the zone.

Fast growth rate

U.S. local public transportation ridership has been increasing in general.

In 2004, ridership crept up 2.1% over 2003, according to a study by the American Public Transportation Association. That’s a faster growth rate than highway vehicle travel, APTA said.

The biggest increase in mass transit ridership is in light rail, which in 2004 increased 8.2% over 2003.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has said that after housing, transportation is the No. 2 expense for households.

Not surprisingly, a study released in June by the nonprofit policy-research groups Surface Transportation Policy Project and the Center for Neighborhood Technology found that families in areas with more transportation choices spent less of their household income on transportation.

On average, transportation costs nationwide take 19.1% of the family budget, the study found.

Houston’s metro area had the highest overall transportation expenditures, at 21%. That was followed by the metro areas of Cleveland, Detroit, Tampa and Kansas City, Mo., the study found.

The Dallas-Fort Worth metro area ranked eighth-highest, at 19.7%.

The city with the smallest share was Baltimore, at 14%. Others that ranked low were Portland, Ore.; New York City; Washington, D.C.; and Philadelphia.