Dealey Alumni Secures Free DART access for DISD Students

Dealey Alumni, Jack, started a group to advocate for free DART access for Dallas ISD students – and they were successful! Check out the story of how our Dealey Dragons are impacting the city!

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After a Year of Campaigning, Sunrise Dallas Wins Free DART Access for Students

The pilot program will start in January, and will offer free access to students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
By Bethany Erickson | 

Austin has it. So does Seattle, Boston, and Minneapolis. And now Dallas has Sunrise Dallas to thank for adding free transit access for Dallas County students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

The student-led group has been working for more than a year to encourage local leaders with the city, Dallas ISD, and Dallas Area Rapid Transit to provide free rides for students. On Wednesday, they officially declared victory, just a month after the Dallas City Council approved an interlocal agreement with DART that will provide, among other things, the funding for the pilot program.

In June, the Council voted (albeit a little reluctantly) to the agreement with the transit agency, which gives the city a $90 million share (down from the initial $111 million it thought it would get but more than the $28 million DART later offered) of excess sales tax revenue collected by the transit agency.

The city says it will use $250,000 for the pilot. Dallas ISD allocated $500,000 for the program in its 2023-2024 budget.

“Where it sits right now is that Dallas ISD and the city of Dallas will collaborate on what the pilot program design should be that we will bring to DART and hopefully, DART agrees and is able to move forward with it,” Dallas ISD Trustee Ben Mackey, who represents District 7 (which includes most of Oak Cliff and parts of West Dallas), told KERA.

Dallas ISD and the city will work with DART to get it up and running by January 2024.

“It took us a year of pushing to get them to the point of funding a pilot program, and it was pretty consistent—10 or more public comment periods at meetings, a petition with 1,000 signatures, just a lot of things we did to make it a priority and more of a reality,” said group member Kidus Girma. “It does feel like a no-brainer—the buses and trains are already running, do we want people to be on them or not?”

In February, the group secured support from several officials, including Hosanna Yemiru and Jon-Bertrell Killen, who were both on the DART board of directors; Dallas ISD trustees Joe Carreon, Dustin Marshall, and Ben Mackey; and Dallas City Council members Omar Narvaez, Cara Mendelsohn, Jaynie Schultz, Casey Thomas, and Chad West.

“We know this victory is because Sunrise Movement Dallas made this a priority for the city, district, and DART board. It can be incredibly challenging to get officials to pay attention and act on the concerns of regular people but if you organize well enough–they can’t ignore you,” said group member Hope Endrenyi. “That’s what happened here, we kept fighting until the city and district delivered. We can’t wait to fight for more.”

Sunrise Dallas said they were initially told by DART that giving up fares would be expensive.

“We really ran through all of the possible arguments— like ‘it’ll be too expensive’ — but the trains are already running and the bus is already there,” Girma said. “So actually the cost is very very low, and fares are like four percent of DART’s budget— like 90 percent of the budget comes from taxes or other funding.”

And some students already can ride for free. Children ages 5-12 can ride at no charge when accompanied by a paying adult. And since DART discourages children 12 and younger from riding alone, Girma maintained that the ask was only for free fares for middle and high school students. Those students are currently offered half-price fares if they have their student identification, or a half-price pass if they go to DART headquarters downtown to purchase one.

Girma’s organization also points to the fact that Dallas offers so many free opportunities to have world-expanding experiences, thanks to a bustling arts district, cultural centers and museums sprinkled throughout the city. But without transportation, they might as well be on another planet. The city offers students a free pass to the zoo and about a dozen museums in the summer.

Now, they will be able to hop on a bus or light rail, take in a new exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art, create a podcast at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library’s maker space, or get a part-time job.

“I think at its core, it’s a matter of access. Will they be able to get to the DMA or the Perot? Will they be able to see their friends? Get a side job? Go to the movie theater?” Girma said.

The group also points out that free access to DART will help high school students potentially attend magnet or choice schools they might have eschewed because of lack of transportation, or allow them to take part in extracurricular activities without worrying about how to get home.

With this major campaign completed, Girma said the group will take a month or two to decide on their next project, but hinted that it may involve a campaign to help people improve their home’s carbon footprint through green initiatives like better insulation and heat pumps.

But first, the group says, it will celebrate this win with a potluck and cookout from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.  Saturday at its headquarters on Gaston Avenue.

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