Why Is DART Approving a $17 Million Rebate for Park Cities, Even as It Plans a 20 Percent Fare Hike?

The DART board this week voted 12-2 in favor providing a rebate of sales tax dollars to Highland Park and University Park every year until at least 2025. We question the wisdom of this decision and worry about the unhealthy precedent it sets.The price tag for the rebate program is not cheap. DART will send back 21 percent of the sales taxes it collects from the Park Cities. Through 2025, that comes to approximately $17 million. What's more, the Regional Transportation Council has agreed to match the funds, bringing the total to $33 million — a full 42 percent of the total amount the two cities pay into DART every year.Any of the 13 member cities that make up DART can vote on whether they want to remain a member. Since 2014, University Park and Highland Park have been mulling the possibility of leaving; that is their right. If a city determines that the return on investment in DART is not worth what they're paying in, it can leave.Naturally, that would mean less revenue for DART, so the agency has an incentive to keep member cities from bolting. We can see the temptation to cut a deal: Rebating some money is better than losing it all. That said, what is to stop other member cities from making similar demands in the future?This loss of revenue matters immensely. Consider the effect this could have on the 20 percent fare increase DART is planning to implement. The increase is necessary to adhere to state law, which requires municipal transportation providers to collect enough fares to cover expenses. That becomes more difficult if DART is writing checks to cities dangling the threat of divorce over the agency's head.The fare increases threaten to have the biggest impact on the region's working poor, who rely heavily on public transportation not just for work but for everyday tasks such as grocery shopping. What is DART saying to them as it issues rebates to two of the state's wealthiest cities?  Continue reading...

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