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Enhancing Access to Public Transportation in Central Iowa



The Des Moines Area (IA) Regional Transit Authority (DART) frequently hears from riders, community leaders and businesses—through surveys and submitted comments—about the desire, and need, for expanded transportation options in the Greater Des Moines region. These suggestions typically include offering service in locations not currently served by public transit and providing service earlier in the day and later in the evening.

Nearly half of DART riders who participated in a recent survey indicated they ride public transit to and from work. However, many employers based in central Iowa still are not frequently served by the agency, and these often cite the lack of reliable transportation as their main barrier to recruiting and retaining employees.

To meet these requirements, DART is investigating creative funding solutions, with the agency’s external affairs team working to partner with public and private organizations to make service expansions possible without increasing property tax levies.

Business Partnerships Helping Employees
With Iowa’s unemployment rate below 3 percent, it can be a challenge for companies such as Dee Zee Manufacturing, a vehicle parts and accessories manufacturer, to fill open positions. The nearest bus stop to Dee Zee’s location was 1.5 miles away and many prospective employees required access to public transportation.

A bus stops along Local Route 10 in Pleasant Hill, IA. DART extended service to the city and created this new route through a partnership with Broadlawns Medical Center. In addition to service to Pleasant Hill, Route 10 also provides service to a Broadlawns clinic, which was built in an area previously without transit access.

In February of 2018, Dee Zee became a DART Unlimited Access partner—paying the agency directly so its employees could ride for free. DART, in turn, used the revenue from the partnership to extend one of its local routes to Dee Zee’s main facility, providing the following benefits:

* Direct public transit access to Dee Zee’s facility for employees working weekday shifts;
* Expanded service to an area of the community where DART often receives requests for improvements, at no additional cost to the taxpayer; and
* A reduction in the number of open positions at Dee Zee from 75 in January to fewer than 10 today.

Approximately 1,000 Dee Zee employees are benefiting from this new partnership which, in turn, benefits DART—the expanded route is open to the public, serving several other area employers and their employees.

In April, the revised route saw a 1.25 percent increase in ridership, with more than 1,000 boardings and alightings at Dee Zee’s main facility.

Expanding Transit Access to Healthcare Services
In 2016, the community medical provider in Polk County, Broadlawns Medical Center, approached DART with a request for transit service. Broadlawns was building a clinic in an area of the city not served by public transit.

DART worked with Broadlawns to fund a new route that served the location of the new clinic and expanded service in an adjacent community. The route was added to the agency’s service in November 2016 with a commitment from Broadlawns to fund the service for at least three years. The route is open to the public and provides transportation to patients of the facility as well as to people traveling in eastern Des Moines and the community of Pleasant Hill.

As of April, riders have taken more than 3,800 trips on the route, an increase of more than 21 percent compared with the previous year.

Growing Ridership Through Vanpools
In 2017, DART partnered with TPI Composites in Newton to help transport its workers from the Des Moines metro area and other central Iowa communities. TPI covered a portion of the cost for employees to use the agency’s vanpool program, RideShare, to travel from their home communities to work.

DART partners with Iowa businesses to provide vanpools for employees. The agency’s RideShare vans transport hundreds of employees to work at companies including TPI Composites and Quantum Plastics.

This benefit has helped TPI retain and attract employees. As of June, more than 220 of the company’s employees travel to work in one of 25 RideShare vanpools.

DART also partnered with Quantum Plastics in late 2017 to provide service using RideShare vanpools. Through this partnership, offenders on work release from the Newton Correctional Facility use a van to get to work. As of June, the van makes two trips each day to Quantum Plastics.

Partnerships such as these have helped DART increase ridership of its vanpool program by 25 percent from April 2017 to April 2018.

Moving Forward with Partnerships
Businesses in central Iowa have indicated they want to do more to support the growth of public transit throughout the region. As a result, DART is adding a staff member specifically to help cultivate partnerships that expand transit access and diversify revenue for the agency.

As DART works to continue these efforts, the agency has modified its approach to forging new partnerships, learning through this process how important it is to work hand-in-hand with business or organization partners to ensure success. Examples of this approach include:

* Holding training sessions at new partner locations to ensure that future riders understand the benefit of the agreement and know how to use DART’s services;
* Working with employers to identify drivers for vanpool partnerships and offer incentives, such as free fares, to attract employees to fill driver roles as needed; and
* Working with media partners and relying on DART’s own communications channels to share news about service expansions and new partnerships.

In addition, DART approaches new partnerships pragmatically. By constantly evaluating and updating services, the agency is able to use resources to meet the demand for public transit service while remaining fiscally responsible.

Public transit agencies wishing to learn more about DART’s partnerships can contact Chief External Affairs Officer Amanda Wanke at 515-283-8124.
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