Since joining Dallas Area Rapid Transit as one of its original member cities in 1983, Addison has contributed $238 million into the region’s public transit system. What does it have to show for that investment? Not enough, according to some city officials.
As plans to extend DART’s light rail service to the suburban city continue to look like pies-in-the-sky, some council members are wondering if they should pull out of DART. After all, Addison has long hoped to connect to DART’s light rail system via an added Cotton Belt corridor line, but possible funding for the project wouldn’t be available for a good 20 years at the earliest. Grumbling about the lack of service has transportation officials scrambling to come up with ways to speed up the process, possibly by introducing Bus Rapid Transit into the Cotton Belt right-of-way as a substitution for light rail service.
But leaving DART isn’t easy – or cheap. First off, it would require an election, which can only occur every six years, putting the next opportunity for an opt-out referendum in 2020. Then the city of Addison would still have to make payments for a portion of the transit system’s debt even after an opt-out, while simultaneously losing bus service. In other words, Addison could leave DART, but they would still have to pay DART money and they wouldn’t even have the little service the system currently provides.
It’s hardly likely, given such constraints, that Addison would ever withdraw from DART. But that doesn’t exactly leave DART in the clear. The example of Addison is something of a warning flag to other area cities that don’t seem very eager to join the public transit system, and their reluctance, you may remember, is one of the reasons why competing bus services are targeting outlying cities that aren’t DART members.
Addison’s frustrations, parasite transit systems, difficulty luring new members, and the inability to fund the kind of frequent service that promotes ridership: these are all problems endemic to a system whose entire planning and funding structure is poorly conceived. Remember how DART brags about having the largest light rail system in the world? Unfortunately, size comes at a cost.