DelDOT proposes modest budget increase, raises prospect of major DART changes

The Delaware Department of Transportation presented its 2024 budget proposal to the joint finance committee on Wednesday, raising the possibility of fundamental changes to Delaware’s public transit system in the coming years.

For an agency faced with multiple crises — paratransit operations in New Castle County regularly failing to meet federal standards for on-time arrivals, dozens of unmanned DMV positions, and the highest number of road deaths in decades — DelDOT’s proposed budget is relatively modest .

The $385 million budget would represent an increase of about four percent, compared to the more than seven percent increase in the state’s overall budget for 2024 proposed by Gov. John Carney.

Inflation is the biggest driver of the proposed increase: I-95 insurance premiums are rising, and a lack of in-house mechanics means the agency is having to hire more expensive fleet repair contractors. DelDOT is also entering into new deals with its workers’ unions, bringing wage increases for drivers, maintenance workers and others.

But Minister Nicole Majeski signaled that more significant operational changes will come as DelDOT begins its comprehensive study of overhauling the DART service. Rider numbers have fallen over the past three years, making each trip less cost-effective. Majeski told lawmakers that DelDOT could potentially be pushed to expand use of on-demand transit in smaller vehicles.

“The days of a 40-foot bus going in an endless loop all day aren’t as efficient as they used to be,” she said.

DelDOT has touted its pilot microtransit service in Sussex County as the future of public transit since its launch in 2021. However, some lawmakers have urged DelDOT to consider other, more fundamental improvements to DART service, including a faster east-west service in Sussex County and a dedicated rural shelter bus service.

“Unlike Wilmington, these stops are in a ditch,” said Rep. Ruth Briggs King. “You are on a side road that doesn’t even have a hard shoulder.”

John Sisson, CEO of DART, noted that fundamental upgrades at bus stops — namely, bringing the stops into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act — will be a priority as DART conducts a comprehensive study of opportunities for overhaul or overhaul in the coming months of his services begins.

But DelDOT’s budget presentation didn’t include details on possible changes to DART’s services; The agency does not plan to finalize its plans by the end of the year, with implementation of all changes planned for fiscal year 2025.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

| |
Back to top button