Beginning Monday, Dallas’ free streetcar from downtown to Methodist Dallas Medical Center is expanding. It stretches even farther into Oak Cliff. The ground-breaking line now reaches the Bishop Arts District.
It’s been a year and a half since this country’s first hybrid-powered streetcars departed Union Station in downtown for Methodist Hospital at Colorado and Beckley.
"Doors will open to your left,” sounds the voice in the streetcar.
With the latest $23 million extension now complete, this line rolls another three quarters of mile into the heart of Oak Cliff. Rider Vicky Justice waited at the hospital stop on a bench in the shade.
“I just like to watch it grow, expand,” Justice says. “I’ve seen the beginning of it and now I see the new routes and I’m like 'Whoa; I’m amazed.' It’s peaceful out here, I love it. I love the Bishop Arts area.”
The city built the line, in part, to make it easier for people to reach popular spots like Bishop Arts, and vital destinations like Methodist Hospital. Through links to light-rail lines, riders can reach other hospitals and colleges, for example.
Bob Boguski, a field supervisor for DART, or Dallas Area Rapid Transit, expects this extension will draw more people like Justice to the streetcar.
“Now that school’s back in session, I think you’ll see an upswing in ridership on weekends and especially after the sun goes down," Boguski says. "When the State Fair comes, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of carry-over coming from the Fair saying why don’t we go for lunch or dinner down in Bishop Arts? Why not? It’s a free ride. Come on down."
Video: Watch the streetcar in action
Now may be an especially good time to come on down for a streetcar ride. Frank Honeycutt, with Dallas’ public works department, says it may not be free forever.
“There are places around the country that have streetcars that operate them free and there are some places that charge a fare," Honeycutt says. "In both cases they’re doing well. We’ll have to evaluate what’s the best situation here.”
The Dallas streetcar rolls with bragging rights. It's the nation’s first hybrid streetcar. In segments along the route, there’s no pole connected to an overhead electric line. That’s when the car is powered by internal batteries. They recharge at certain stops.
Angelina Serrano lives by one of those stops, Methodist Hospital.
“We go downtown on the weekends because we live off the street line,” Serrano says. “So me and my husband will take the kids and make it a trip. We’ll ride the streetcar down. There’s lots of restaurants by the Omni. Then by 11:00 we ride the train back. And we have a Saturday night out without having to drive. It’s actually brought us to downtown more.”
Serrano’s sold on the streetcar’s convenience. Pushing her 1-year-old in a stroller, she’s about to board the line to get her 7-year-old son from school. She says he’s already reaching for his independence.
“He actually asked me about that. If I think that like in two years he could ride the train? Because it’s a straight shot, it would be two stops away, and it’s much safer than crossing the street and stuff,” Serrano says.
Dallas is young compared to cities like New York or Chicago, where the public transit system’s older and more efficient. Dallas grew with cars, and despite more rail plans here, getting everywhere on DART may never be easy. Frank Honeycutt is optimistic that streetcar ridership will grow.
“With the younger part of the population, if they could give up their cars, many of them, they would be happy to do it,” Honeycutt says.
There are plans to extend the streetcar to the Kay Bailey Hutchison convention center downtown and also connect it to the McKinney Trolley line uptown. The city will need federal funding first to make that a reality.