DART strategies miss the mark in Sussex
Delaware Area Regional Transit officials say it’s challenging to provide bus service in Sussex County, which is growing rapidly but where infrastructure has long been lagging behind.
Officials say they are looking at ways to serve areas that have no service – which is most of southeastern Sussex: Frankford, Dagsboro, Selbyville, Bethany Beach, Ocean View, Millville and Fenwick Island.
Members of a new working group told planners even two busy access routes – Route 17 and Route 26 – lack bus service. The Cape Region, meanwhile, boasts one of the most successful ridership routes: Lewes Transit Center to Rehoboth Beach.
At the same time, other routes do not meet DART’s minimum ridership of at least seven riders per day, while areas such as Oak Orchard have no service at all and are not soon likely to get it.
DART planners say adding new bus stops along rural Sussex County roads is difficult because there is no place for a bus to safely pull over. They also say new stops must be Americans with Disabilities Act compliant, which can cost as much as $100,000. DART officials say areas like Oak Orchard will have to wait until infrastructure catches up.
That could be a long wait.
Perhaps the real problem is that DART is trying to serve rural Sussex using strategies suited to high-volume city ridership.
Could Oak Orchard and other rural areas be served by smaller vans that could pull over at existing businesses or housing developments? Why doesn’t DART develop better shelter designs so bus stops could welcome people with disabilities and all others at a lower cost?
Instead of an app that tells people when their bus is due, why not an app that lets riders schedule a ride days or even hours ahead similar to DART’s paratransit?
Running large, empty buses on routes that attract few riders is not a winning strategy.
To better serve the Cape Region and rural Sussex, DART must set its sights on a more agile, rider-centered system – and Lewes Transit Center may be well-placed to serve as a hub.