Public transit is a public service, just like roads, parks and emergency services that are available to us. Every resident may not use all of these services yet they still play a key role in how Greater Des Moines functions and continues to serve and improve the quality of life for central Iowans.
DART connects people to the places they need to go in and around Greater Des Moines, making our neighborhoods and communities more accessible, easier to navigate and more enjoyable—all of which drives economic prosperity for our region.
As such, public transit is a service that’s for our residents, funded by our residents.
How DART is Funded: The Basics
No singular source funds DART in its entirety. You can see pictured to the right that DART is supported by a mix of federal, state and local funding dollars. This funding, enables DART to provide a viable, working transit system that gets thousands of people to work, essential services, shopping, medical appointments and other places they need to go.
DART’s operating revenue is comprised of several funding sources, pictured to the right. While the average public transit system sees approximately 20 percent of its revenue coming from fares and partnerships, for DART that number is slightly above average at just over 22 percent.
How does the property tax levy work?
When DART was established in 2006 by the state legislature, the Board of Commissioners (DART’s governing body), was given authority to collect a transit levy – or tax – from residential and commercial property taxpayers in its member communities. Taxes derived from DART’s transit levy go solely to help fund our region’s transit service. This helps pay for things like maintenance of DART’s bus fleet, fuel and bus drivers’ salaries.
DART’s Board of Commissioners sets the budget for DART each year. As a part of that process, they also set the transit levy for the year. Historically, when a levy increase has occurred, each member communities levy rate increases the same amount.
DART’s annual operating cost increases of approximately 3% are higher than the increases with property tax revenue, as well as state and federal funding. This has short-term and long-term implications:
- Short-term: As levy increases are needed and more communities reach the $0.95 cap, the communities with remaining capacity in their transit levy will increase at a faster rate and communities already at the cap will not continue to fund DART in the same proportion they do today.
- Long-term: Projections show that even if all communities reach the cap, by 2028 DART will have to cut service if additional funding sources are not available.
This could compromise central Iowans’ ability to get around the area easily via public transit, exacerbate problems that occur when a region continues to grow (such as traffic congestion and poverty), as well as limit Greater Des Moines’ ability to thrive economically. If nothing changes, this could be a reality as soon as 2028.
DART is exploring several funding solutions to continue to maintain and, as needed, increase public transit service in Greater Des Moines for the long-term.
One of those options is to increase the transit levy cap. If the current cap of 95 cents is increased by 50 cents, the threshold would then be $1.45.
A solution like this would not immediately raise the transit levy rate or the amount of money each taxpayer pays each year. Instead, it lengthens the runway for the levy, creating a flexible funding mechanism for years to come. Any increases to the actual rate (the amount taxpayers actually pay each year)–would have to be approved by the DART Commission.
How does the region's spending on public transportation compare to other cities?
The current annual spending per capita for public transportation in Greater Des Moines is $47, which is far lower than other comparable regions such as Nashville ($87 per year) and Indianapolis ($79 per year).
All central Iowans benefits from public transit, whether they ride transit or not. By all chipping in, we’re ensuring that central Iowans can access the places they need to go, have a better quality of life for all of us who call Greater Des Moines home, as well as benefit from good jobs, thriving businesses and a strong economy. That’s why it’s up to each of us working together in building and growing a strong transit infrastructure for years to come.