An early retirement program at Dallas Area Rapid Transit left the agency with too few bus drivers. Passengers tell NBC 5 they have been left without a ride at times in recent weeks.
Passenger Paul Miranda relies on DART to travel from his home in Garland to his overnight job in West Dallas.
He said the final leg on the 35 bus from Downtown Dallas is sometimes not there at all.
The alternative of taking another bus route delivers him far from away from his job.
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“Either I don't go to work or I catch the other bus which would make me an hour to two hours late,” he said.
Miranda uses the same 35 bus route to return home in the morning.
“The mornings never have that problem but in the afternoons for some reason on the 35 bus, they don’t show up,” he said.
Passenger Ollie Williams has a long daily commute to work from her home in Southern Dallas to Garland.
She catches one bus to board a DART light rail train through downtown to the Forest at Jupiter station.
There she said the final leg of her trip on the 372 bus has become unreliable.
“Once I get to Forest and Jupiter, that's where I have a problem because sometimes that bus be on time and sometimes it doesn't,” Williams said. “From what I have been told, they have a lot of retirement, and sometimes they don’t have enough drivers.”
COVID-19 cut DART ridership by 50% and crippled the agency’s budget. Amalgamated Transit Workers Union Local 1338 President Kenneth Day said the offer of early retirement was a popular option for operators.
“I guess the timing was good. COVID didn't help. A lot of people said it's too dangerous out there now, it's too risky,” Day said.
DART Spokesman Gordon Shattles said 369 employees accepted the early retirement offer and the agency is now working to hire 53 more bus drivers.
He said DART is focused on safety and service for passengers who still depend on public transit.
“So, of course, we're very concerned about that. That's one of the reasons we're working so closely to increase our staffing levels but also to make sure our busses are safe on the road,” Shattles said.
The spokesman pointed out that an app for smartphones and an alert service with text or e-mail messages are available on the DART website to warn riders where there are service interruptions. He encouraged riders with concerns to call the DART customer service line at 214-979-1111.
“That would be helpful,” Paul Miranda said.
For years, Dallas City Council Members have been demanding an overhaul of DART bus service to better serve passengers who rely on the buses.
The DART board hired consultants and received details on their work Tuesday.
“By the time they finalize the study everything has changed again,” Day said. “It's time to redesign but this is the time.”
The changes are not planned to take effect until January 2022 and spokesman Shattles said DART anticipates operating the same number of buses so more drivers will still be needed.
“Someone out there who’s looking for a position, a long-term role here with DART, we’re definitely hiring,” Shattles said.
The agency also projects ridership will return as COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available.
“I hope they fix the problem. It’s not just me. There’s a lot of people that depend on the bus,” Paul Miranda said.