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DART Meeting New Demands

by Gary C. Thomas
President/Executive Director
Dallas Area Rapid Transit

Today’s transit customers are no longer bound by mobility choices dictated to them by public transit operators. This new reality is causing sleepless nights to public transit agency leaders everywhere, but Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) sees it as a wakeup call. It’s a new opportunity to become relevant to new generations of riders and stay relevant to existing customers who are developing new habits and service expectations.

DART’s customers are the same ones who pick up their coffee, made the way they want, after ordering it from their phone. They use that same phone to buy a house, furnish it and stock the pantry with goods delivered to their door.

Public transit enters this environment with legacy routes and printed timetables tied to permanent bus stops and rail stations. That’s no longer a sustainable operating environment.

DART introduced the initial version of its mobile ticketing app, GoPass, in September 2013. While the agency had been online since 1997 and added smartphone trip-planning tools in 2011, the pass was innovative for its time. It was one of the first multimodal, multi-agency transit fare apps.

Two years later, DART added links from the app to Zipcar, Lyft and Uber. The initial version of the app has been downloaded more than 900,000 times and has sold about six million tickets.

A new version of the app, GoPass 2.0, launched in May. We updated the trip planning tools and added new payment functionality—including the ability to load cash to the app—to make it easier for more people to buy passes. The new payment tools are key.

DART's GoPass app can be personalized to suit the individual preferences of riders.

The price of a public transit pass can be a barrier to access. While transit operators need to be able to raise fares to meet rising costs, we should be using technology to help mitigate the impact of those increases. GoPass 2.0 gives us the ability to cap fares, so customers who are unbanked, or who can only afford to purchase one pass at a time, can take advantage of lower-cost bulk or multi-trip passes available to others. This makes public transit more affordable and more available.

We are moving closer to a complete integration of transportation modes—GoPass 3.0—more fully incorporating transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft, along with bikesharing, carsharing and taxis. GoPass 3.0 is scheduled to launch at the end of this year.

However, apps are only as valuable as the service behind them. Evolving our offerings, from bus, paratransit and rail operator to a true mobility management provider, is taking place parallel to the development of new customer tools.

In recent months we’ve added GoLink, a new, on-demand mode designed to enhance and expand current DART On-Call zones and introduce public transit to previously unserved or underserved areas. It combines the low cost of public transit with the convenience of ridesharing. Our on-demand buses can carry up to 15 passengers and customers schedule their trips with a mobile app. Since its launch earlier this year, we are already seeing ridership growth in these areas when compared with the replaced bus routes.

GoPool is another innovation, providing app-based dynamic carpooling within specific zones. GoPool customers use the technology to arrange one-time shared rides on short notice. This creates a transit option for customers who do not have convenient access to DART buses and trains and are seeking a ride companion who lives and works nearby and has a similar work schedule.

Twenty-one years ago, Apple challenged computer users with the slogan “Think different” to reevaluate how they were using personal computers. That’s a good idea for public transit today. Customers show us daily how they want to buy and use goods and services. We can respond with innovation and creativity. Or we can become an afterthought.

Thomas is a past chair of APTA and chair of the APTA Mobility Management Committee.
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