DART partnerships could reduce cost, improve service
Delaware’s DART system has for decades provided door-to-door services for disabled and elderly people throughout the state. It’s a vital service for the people who use it.
Paratransit accounts for about 8 percent of total annual statewide trips. That 8 percent now consumes nearly half the total annual budget for public transportation. At an average cost of $52 a trip, the existing system has reached a tipping point.
The system needs an overhaul.
DART has a plan to trim expenses: Increase the cost to riders while limiting services to people who do not fall within the requirements of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
Those measures will succeed in reducing costs, but in Sussex County they would affect nearly four of five trips DART now provides.
Reducing services to so many is no solution to this problem, which will only get worse as Sussex County ages and more people need rides.
DART must transform.
Limiting future service to those who meet federal requirements would encourage building housing and other facilities close to existing bus routes. That’s a good idea that promotes orderly development.
But that plan will not help hundreds of people in Sussex who depend on DART. To serve them, DART’s overhaul must not only cut costs; it must also develop flexible, agile services to serve more people cost-effectively.
DART should start by partnering with CHEER, Lewes-Rehoboth Association of Churches, Meals on Wheels and other senior centers in Sussex who already know many DART clients and their needs, and already serve these clients at a lower cost per trip.
Survey existing resources. Mobilize vans and drivers that currently sit idle for much of the day and sometimes the week. Develop grants so businesses that handle a high number of DART users can run their own vans to pick up clients while ensuring client safety.
No one knows how to serve seniors and disabled people better than those who already serve them. Partnerships will promote better, cost-effective service that won’t leave out the people who need the service most.