Co-published by our media partner, the Dallas Weekly
Beverly Thomas is 73 years old and has lived in the Bonton neighborhood of South Dallas almost her entire life. She’s never owned a car.
“The thing is, I’ve never learned how to drive,” Thomas says. She’s always used city buses and DART trains to travel to places, but in the last few years, she’s not as comfortable using public transportation. Thomas says she gets anxious about being bothered by “the younger folks” on the buses and at bus stops.
“You get to a certain age, you know, and you’re worried about your safety,” Thomas explains.
Getting to the grocery store is also getting to be difficult, though it’s just a 10-minute bus ride from Thomas’ home.
“I just can’t get too much stuff because it’s hard to carry it all back,” Thomas says.
Community leaders in South Dallas have been working to find ways to make it easier for residents like Thomas to get around. A community survey showed that 45 percent of the people in the South Dallas zip codes of 75210 and 75215 don’t have cars.
“We have many bus routes, but our constituents were telling us that they had problems traveling internally within the South Dallas area,” explains Diane Ragsdale. The former Dallas city councilmember chairs the South Dallas Fair Park Transportation Initiative, which surveyed community members in conjunction with DART.
“It is difficult to move from the Fiesta grocery store to a Walgreens,” Ragsdale says. “The grocery store to a Chase bank … going from a Family Dollar to the neighborhood thrift store … going to the doctor or your dentist in the area.”
Ragsdale and her coalition took their concerns to Dallas Area Rapid Transit. She wanted to bring DART’s GoLink service to South Dallas. GoLink is an on-call service which allows riders to call an Uber or other private company contracting with DART within a particular zone. Riders can use their DART passes. Each ride costs $3.
The service currently is offered mostly in suburban areas such as Far North Plano or Farmers Branch that have limited bus service. It’s also offered in communities where fixed bus routes haven’t worked well, such Kleberg and Rylie in southern Dallas. DART added GoLink in these communities because residents in these more rural areas needed a way to get to the Buckner rail station on the green line, and one bus was not economical or efficient.
“So, it’s a supplement to the rail system or bus system,” says Todd Plesko, vice president of planning, servicing and scheduling for DART. “You are not getting on GoLink in Rowlett and going all the way to downtown Dallas. We are going to take you to the rail station. So, 90% of the travel on GoLink is to and from either a rail station or a major bus terminal.”
Plesko says providing GoLink service to South Dallas would be a departure from the way DART has traditionally utilized the on-call service. Instead of using GoLink to travel from home to a major rail station or bus route, South Dallas leaders want to see GoLink utilized as transportation from a residence to a grocery store or community center. DART’s board decided to try it as a pilot project rather than fully invest in the program for the area.
“It’s a response to a community’s need. That’s why we are doing this as a pilot,” Plesko explains. “Our board has not decided that this is something we would do in all cases, but since the community was very actively engaged with DART, and they identified some unique problems, they wanted us to have an open mind and consider where it could be applicable in select areas that have unique problems.”
In late 2019, the South Dallas Fair Park Transportation Initiative and DART conducted a survey of more than 200 residents in the 75210 and 75215 zip codes. The results showed a need for internal transportation in the area. Despite having eight bus routes and three rail station stops, the survey identified some people in parts of DART’s South Dallas zone that lived far away from bus stops.
Another problem was that the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, an essential destination for residents, was not near the rail station and required transfers between two bus stops to reach the center in the middle of the day.
“They wanted transportation access, and they identified some of the problems that they had with the bus system,” Plesko says. “It was either too far to walk or the wait times were too long.”
He also acknowledges the unique needs for seniors like Beverly Thomas in this community.
“A lot of people find it cumbersome to carry very many bags of groceries on a bus because the driver doesn’t get off and help them carry it in.”
DART’s board dedicated $50,000 for the 6-month pilot, which was expected begin this past summer but, because of the pandemic, DART has rescheduled the program to begin next spring.
South Dallas resident Aundrey Evans, 47, says he doesn’t know if he will use GoLink. He doesn’t have a car and uses public transportation to get everywhere.
“Do you have an aspirin?” he jokes when asked about using public transportation. “It varies from day to day. Sometimes, it can be a smooth transaction and other times it could be very bumpy because the buses are not on time.”
For groceries, Evans says he generally takes a bus and a train into Downtown to shop at Target and Kroger. Even though it takes 45 minutes to an hour each way, he says it’s cheaper for him to shop outside of his neighborhood, and there’s more selection of food and things that he needs.
“I would love to have a nice store with affordable prices right here in our neighborhood where I won’t have to leave the neighborhood,” Evans says.
Ragsdale believes that if there was a curbside service for residents, it would encourage people to shop in their neighborhoods and increase the number of businesses and stores in her community.
“The mental thought process in many ways was that transportation is used to go outside of the area —catching the bus to go Downtown or catching the bus to go further south,” Ragsdale says. “That’s not a correct thought. That’s why you have to stay in constant communication with your people [in the community].”
There are some concerns about the cost of GoLink for riders. A $3 fare for each one-way trip can add up. But Plesko says it hasn’t impacted ridership in other areas.
“We found that people have found that it’s worth it, and they do it because it’s typically cheaper than paying the full fare on Uber. Probably the lowest cost on Uber is $6 or $7. So, they save a little bit of money and DART saves money because it would be more expensive for us to put out dedicated taxi cabs or special vehicles.”
Booking GoLink is easy for people who have a smart phone, but a smart phone is not a necessity. DART has a phone number to set up curbside pick-ups. There’s generally a wait time of 10 to 15 minutes from the time the request is made.
Both DART officials and South Dallas leaders say they hope getting past the pandemic will benefit the pilot results.
“We want this pilot to be successful,” Ragsdale explains. “We want to make sure that we maximize success, and so it’s important, in my opinion, that we delay it.”