New DART Program Helps Refugees and Immigrants Navigate the Transit System

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  A new pilot project aims to make it easier for refugees and immigrants to learn to ride DART buses. Two new signs were put up at DART bus stops on University Avenue near 12th and 13th Street.

Community members applied for a 9-month leadership program through the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute. Fifty people came together to learn about community issues and then break into groups of 10 to complete projects, one of which was the addition of the new signs.

The signs include symbols that almost anyone can interpret without having to read English. Symbols of ways to pay like with cash, a DART card or the dart app. There are also symbols of the steps you take to get off the bus like looking and listening for your stop, pulling the cord before your stop and departing the bus.

The signs show a map of DART’s route 3 as well as area resources along that route such as the hospital, the grocery store, the pharmacy and Drake University. The community leadership participants worked with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and DART for 9 months to evaluate the needs of new Iowans.

“To understand how refugees and new Iowans are using the bus; to understand how some of the Iowans are using the bus, where are they going, how often are they using it. And then started diving into what icons would be useful instead of English, there is far more than just three languages to be able to translate things to we really needed to think of something outside of language,” Community Leadership participant Jaclyn Wulefekuhle said.

The Director of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants Carly Ross said new Iowans come to the state with varying levels of experience driving cars and many rely on the transit system to get to work and take care of everyday errands, she hopes the new signs will help make traveling easier.

“Imagine the challenges of arriving in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, you don’t understand how to navigate the systems. It takes some time for our refugee neighbors to really become comfortable in this new environment and to really integrate and become familiar with our customs,” Ross said.

These new signs are part of a 6 month pilot program and there will be a total of 30 signs along University Avenue, after 6 months the leadership participants will evaluate how much the program impacted new Iowans and whether or not to continue and expand.