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Plano city council wants to cut DART funding

DART announced that its Silver Line trains are running on local tracks for the first time Sunday.
The Plano City Council approved a resolution at a Monday meeting to reduce Plano's contributions to DART's funding.

The city of Plano wants to lower how much money it contributes to Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

One Plano city official told city council members on Monday that the transit system is not "maximized" for Plano residents.

Plano joins Dallas, another DART member city that has expressed interest in diverting funds from the transit service. The 13-member cities that are part of DART, including Plano and Dallas, contribute one cent per sales tax dollar to the transit authority. City council members in Plano passed a resolution on Monday saying the city supports reducing the contribution to three-quarters of a cent.

The Plano mayor and council members passed the resolution without comment.

Lowering the sales tax contribution requires approval from the DART board and voters. If the board approves the reduction, then an election will be called in the transit authority’s 13 member cities. Voters will then decide how to reallocate the one-quarter of a cent reduced from the sales tax contribution to DART. The voters could potentially reallocate that money back to the transit authority.

The resolution states that Plano residents don’t benefit from DART’s services enough to justify the current cost. Andrew Fortune, the director of government relations for the city of Plano, said the city contributes about $115 million annually to DART.

The transit authority’s ridership hasn’t reached pre-pandemic levels yet. DART had about 69 million riders in fiscal year 2019 according to a presentation from the city of Plano. In 2023, DART ridership was at about 48.8 million.

“Why do we continue spending at these levels when we don’t have maximized ridership and usage of the existing services that we already provide communities throughout the system?” Fortune said.

He said reducing Plano’s contribution to DART by a quarter of a cent would add about $30 million in annual revenue for Plano.

Plano city council members have urged DART to increase financial transparency and accountability since 2020. A recentKERA investigation found that some DART board members may have used taxpayer funds to pay for personal trips. The transit authority revised its travel policy for members in March.

"The policy was being abused," said Paul Wageman, who represents Plano on the board and chairs its finance committee.

The city of Plano supported bills in the past two Texas legislative sessions that would’ve required DART to do so. But neither bill passed. Fortune said DART hired a firm this past March to conduct a value of transit analysis to answer some of the questions Plano had asked. But he said Plano still hasn’t received a report.

Dan Mustafa, a Plano resident, said during public comments that DART has already recovered a majority of its pre-pandemic ridership. He said that trajectory will continue.

“Within just a couple of years, ridership will likely surpass pre-pandemic levels,” Mustafa said.

DART has already had to weigh the impact of reduced funding. The Dallas city council has considered a similar reduction to add funds to the city’s public safety pension system, which is plagued with unfunded liabilities.

About 72% of DART’s riders are from Dallas according to a May memo from DART’s CEO, Nadine Lee.

Lee said in the memo that cutting member cities’ contributions by a quarter of a cent would significantly impact services and cripple the transit authority’s budget.

“System-wide transit service levels would be severely curtailed in any scenario, as would preventive maintenance and other activities to keep existing vehicles and infrastructure in a state of good repair,” Lee said.

She also said wait times for transit would increase. Light rail wait time during peak frequency would reach thirty minutes — double what it is now according to the memo. Lee warned the increase in travel times would disproportionately impact low-income and communities of color that don’t have access to other forms of transportation.

“I cannot emphasize enough the detrimental effects these types of service reductions would have on the most vulnerable populations that rely on DART to access jobs, health care, education, and more,” she said.

KERA's Pablo Arauz Peña contributed to this report.

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Caroline Love is a Report For Americacorps member for KERA News.

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Caroline Love covers Collin County for KERA and is a member of the Report for America corps. Previously, Caroline covered daily news at Houston Public Media. She has a master's degree from Northwestern University with an emphasis on investigative social justice journalism. During grad school, she reported three feature stories for KERA. She also has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Texas Christian University and interned with KERA's Think in 2019.