Why DART May Cost Dallas Its Chance at Landing Amazon’s HQ2

Competitive cities offer mobility options. Dallas' useless public transit system doesn't fit the bill.

The New York Times played a little game over the weekend. Looking at the criteria Amazon laid out for cities competing to be the home of its new second headquarters, the paper broke down the data and made a prediction as to which city most fit the bill.

The good news is Dallas does pretty darn well in the analysis. The bad news is a glaring shortcoming — transit and mobility — that takes it out of the final round.

Let’s break it down: 

The Times began by looking at all the metro areas that have at least one million people and strong job growth. Dallas easily made that cut, but so did 25 other metros, including Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. The next cut: the right kind of large and growing labor pool, namely software programmers and designers. Dallas also made this cut, along with 14 other metros.

Next up: Amazon wants its new HQ in a metro that offers a high quality of life. What that means, according to the company, is a good balance between housing costs and amenities. The cities that lose in this round are expensive places like New York and San Francisco. This is also the point in the hypothetical process when I thought of Boeing’s relocation back in 2001. At the time, it was believed the company said it passed up Dallas for Chicago because there was much more to do in Chicago (though it may also have had to do with North Texas regionalism working against its best interests, again). Dallas used that scorning as a justification to double-down on its investments in arts and culture. The good news is that today, at least according to the Times piece, Dallas makes the cut in the quality of life round with nine other metros.

At this point, Dallas should feel good about itself. It is in the running in the Times handicapping alongside Portland, Denver, Austin, Atlanta, Raleigh, Miami, Boston, and Washington D.C. Now, what’s the next criteria to work through?

Oh, mobility.

In its request for HQ bids, Amazon made it clear that access to mass transit is a priority in any new home for its employees. To which you might say, well, cool, because the Dallas area boasts the longest light rail system in the nation. That surely scores a few points.

Except I can’t imagine Amazon is dumb enough to be fooled by those kind of booster stats that don’t mean anything when it comes down to the messy business of actually moving people around a city. And as anyone who has ever dealt with DART knows, Dallas-area public transit is terrible at moving people around the city efficiently.

To make the cut, the Times authors looked to statistics pulled together by the company INRIX and found that most of the remaining metros rank poorly when it comes to congestion. That makes sense—they are all thriving cities. Dallas ranks 16th in the world for congestion, according to the INRIX report, just behind Washington D.C. and ahead of Istanbul.

To figure out which cities have good transit, the authors didn’t look at length of rail miles, the amount of Transit Oriented Development-related growth a system has generated, total system area coverage, or any of the more-or-less meaningless criteria DART often uses to tout its own successes. They didn’t even use the ridership number cited by the agency — passenger trips — which tallies up one trip every time one person gets on a bus or train (meaning one person can rack up multiple trips making transfers during a single ride from A to B). Rather, they simply looked at census data to determine if people actually use the transit system in the given city.

According to the American Communities Survey, just 1.5 percent of the DFW workforce uses transit. The numbers look a little better when you drill down by county and city. Three-percent of the workforce in Dallas County use public transit, and 4 percent of the workforce in the city of Dallas use DART. Still, all those numbers — metro, county, and city — put Dallas at the bottom of the list of its Amazon competitors.

At the top are the cities you would expect. In Boston, 40 percent of workers use public transit, and in Washington D.C., 36 percent of the workforce use the metro. In the city of Portland, 13 percent of workers use some kind of public transit.

In the traditionally car-centric cities, the numbers are predictably lower. Atlanta and Denver lead the pack, with 9 and 8 percent of their respective workforces relying on public transit to get to work.  Miami edges out the city of Dallas, with 5 percent of the workers using transit. Dallas is on tier with Austin and Raleigh, in which less than 4 percent of workers rely on transit. And since all indications are that Dallas will join with its neighbors to make a regional bid for the Amazon HQ, the wider you expand the area for a potential location, the worse the Dallas area ranks in terms of usable mass transit.

It is a comparison that should sound alarm bells for boosters, just as the Boeing relocation sounded alarms a decade-and-a-half ago. At the time, not having vibrant cultural amenities put Dallas at a competitive disadvantage. This city’s leadership responded by reinvesting in the culture and rethinking its attitude toward supporting the arts (though we could argue until we are blue in the face about the pros and cons of how Dallas decided to direct that reinvestment).

Not having usable public transit also puts Dallas at a competitive disadvantage. This should spur city leadership to completely rethink the assumptions and criteria of success that have driven the region’s three-decade experiment with DART.

So who does make the transit round cut in the Times Amazon HQ handicapping experiment? Portland, Denver, Washington D.C., and Boston. And the authors of the article finally settle on Denver as the ideal location for Amazon’s second home. Unlike its last three competitors, they argue, Denver has the land space, a healthy tech sector, and a willingness to throw incentives at a relocation.

That conclusion should frustrate Dallas even more than if the authors picked a coastal city. Dallas competes well against Denver in every other criteria but mass transit. Dallas has the space, the willingness to leverage incentives, the workforce, the growth, and the population. Furthermore, Denver isn’t a dense east coast city with a 100-year head start on building-out mass transit. Rather, the Colorado city has simply made smart choices about how to implement transit into a car-centric city with ridership and mobility in mind.

Who knows where Amazon will ultimately locate its headquarters. But the point is this: this city and region needs to wake up to the failure of its public transit experiment. The Times writers, Amazon officials, and others who are evaluating this city from afar don’t need to visit this city and ride DART to experience what a headache it is to get around the city — or even to and from work — that anyone who uses the public transit system is all too familiar with. They simply have to look at the fact that, according to Census data, people who actually live here opt against using it.

In the coming months, DART is going to be asking its board to raise its fares. Its board — and the leaders of its member cities who are competing for Amazon and other relocations — should instead ask DART staff why they haven’t invested the billions in sales tax they have already received in a system that more residents would be willing to pay to ride.


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  • Los_Politico

    I fail to see how Denver’s 8% usage is appreciably better than the 4% usage in Dallas. Boston is obviously better, Denver not so much.

    Where would new $100K Amazon employees live in both cities (we already know) and what would their commutes look like in each place?

    That said, I’d love to use this contest as an excuse to tear down 345, connect downtown and Deep Ellum, reform our bus routes, and bury D2. A 50% increase in the downtown workforce would probably end up making the schools better, too.

    • Pol Pot

      I live in Deep Ellum and drive through downtown to and from work each day. The connecting roads are already there. Canton/Young is much faster than taking Elm or Main.

      • Los_Politico

        I don’t mean roads I mean people and places. There’s basically nothing on Main between Good Latimer and Chavez. The whole Amazon campus would fit in the area if we tore down 345.

        • Pol Pot

          Tear down 345, nix the dog park and that is still less than a whole city block. I have never seen tearing down 345 as some great boon for connecting deep ellum and downtown (I will leave aside the cost of maintaining 345 which maybe in and of itself all the reason needed for a tear down).

          Commerce and Elm do have a bit more going on. The whole EPIC building will probably do more to connect Downtown and Deep Ellum as it will bring major development to the other side of Good Latimer.
          I agree with your other points regarding D2 and bus routes though.

  • downtownworker

    I get the narrative that DART needs to improve their bus system and overall numbers, but as a daily rail passenger I get to see first-hand why the vast majority of people who work downtown won’t consider using the trains to get to work: most people don’t live anywhere near a DART station, and that’s because DART is the absolute worst real estate player in all of Dallas.

    Where is DART’s strategy to develop housing around its stations, on parcels owned by the agency, or to encourage adjacent landowners to do the same? The fact that they own a massive vacant lot in the Arts District (nowhere near ROW needed for D2) is proof of this pathetic failure.

  • Greenleaf

    Let Denver have it. We have enough Indians here

    • Chrisdafer

      What a disgusting thing to say. No doubt the Indians we who have made DFW their home contribute more to the good of our towns than the bigoted garbage we apparently have enough of….

  • James Morgan

    “should instead ask DART staff why they haven’t invested the billions in sales tax they have already received in a system that more residents would be willing to pay to ride.” Much of that sales tax comes from outlying communities in the “Dallas area” that expected to have rail stops in return for their contribution. That’s why it’s the longest light-rail system. I think the Carrolton mayor had a good idea when he suggested the Cotton Belt line could be “Bus Rapid Transit.” Too many have a love affair with costly trains when the density isn’t there to support them.

    • Chrisdafer

      I rode the rail for a while…15 minutes to drive to the station then 45 minutes to get downtown (Belt Line to St. Paul). Even right now, it’s a 47 minute train ride and a 32 minute drive between the two…at 7:45am on a Tuesday. And the last time I rode the train, I saw someone dealing drugs at the station. I’ve seen fights, mentally unstable people running through the train, and have suffered on cars with broken air conditioning. If they want to increase ridership, they have to make people comfortable. I gave up on DART and moved east of downtown for a lighter commute.

      • Reece Olivers

        I loved DART even with all of what Chrisdafer described I was able to overlook it because of the time I would be able to just defuse after a long day of work. I now sit in 45mins of traffic because it would take a train transfer & a bus transfer all in all 1.5hrs each way to get to work & home. I could no longer afford 3 hours of my day wasted on Dart.
        One thing Dart needs to do is connect Dart between 75 & I35 along 635. It should have been planned when they were tunneling the 635 Texpress lanes, but Dallas is always behind with it’s growth plan. It wants all these companies to come but fails to have the infrastructure to support the increased population.

  • BellyUpDallas

    People dont have cars in Boston because they dont have spaces, thus pushing people to Public Transport. So of course they use more public transport. We have a much newer housing boom, we dont have sewage issues like a lot of older cities have, or winters like the East Coast – start taking away parking spaces for living in Dallas, you will see an increase in transportation usage.

  • Walker62

    There is no perfect fit for Amazon period. D.C. has better transit but overall commuting is longer that just about any metro in north america
    I know because i lived there.
    Amazon has more fulfillment centers in DFW than all but southern California. DFW makes more sense really than any other potential finalists.

    • Pol Pot

      I’d argue that Austin having the HQ for recently acquired Whole Foods gets a leg up on that fact alone.

  • James Alias

    There is no place in Dallas, excluding places where any business would never want to go to put a campus to house 50,000 workers. If Fort Worth was to create a new light rail line connecting downtown to Alliance then the space next to the Amazon fulfillment center would be ideal as it could connect into the new line going to DFW and also the existing rail line to Dallas. Additionally buses could be added as needed.

    That said I doubt Ft Worth is going after them with this plan. So where else in DFW? I looked. Where there is land and roads there is no light rail or no adequate public transportation. Some of the other cites on the list really don’t have land or quality of life. They may have better public transportation but who really wants to take the bus if you can take a car. Driving yourself is way better than sitting next to someone you don’t know or want to know.

    Also none of these other public transportation cites like Denver have any land next to their light rail, so where are they going to stick 50,000 people unless in a tower and we all know towers are concept that has gone out of style. Look at Apples new HQ design for example, oh wait they aren’t near public transit. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

    • Los_Politico

      They’re going to build something like 15 30 story towers. It won’t look like Apple. Every city has a gray area adjacent to the business district to put that– even NYC has Hudson Yards.

  • Pat Brackens

    How is it useless????
    Or is it useless because it public transportation?

  • Wanderer

    I notice that Houston Metro and Capital Metro in Austin identify a frequent service (every 15 minutes or more often) bus network on their websites, but DART doesn’t.

  • JeniferEDutil

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  • Cverv

    This is such an interesting article. I took the DART religiously my first month of working downtown, but then abandoned it completely partly because of overall transit time & mostly because there were too many instances in which I simply didn’t feel safe on the train (especially if my day went long). A simple fix would be to invest in a few safety measures to make commuters, especially women, feel more comfortable at all times!

  • AP Dubya

    Or the urban taxi concept being worked on by Bell And Uber

  • Casey

    I moved to Dallas from St.Petersburg Florida. In St. Pete all there are is buses, and they don’t even run that frequently. The traffic is a absolute nightmare. The one redeeming thing was the Pinellas Trail. The Pinellas trail was a pedestrian path much like the Katy trail, except unlike the Katy trail and all the other trails here in Dallas, it actually went somewhere. It ran the entire length of the peninsula. You could bicycle from one end of the county to the other on it. 30 miles of uninterrupted path. As a cyclist, I loved it. I could get to anywhere in Pinellas county using that trail and adjacent side streets.

    Here in Dallas, the bicycle infrastructure is a joke. A bunch of little piecemeal trails that don’t go anywhere. Also, Dallas isn’t nice and flat like St.Pete…which can be rough, especially when there is a red light waiting for me at the bottom of EVERY hill.

    So I tried the trains.

    Wow…idk what to say even. These trains need guards on them at all times. Just the other day there were a bunch of teenagers showing off their butterfly knives on the train. I’ve gotten on at night and there would be diarrhea pooled in one of the chairs. I’d have to step over homeless people (and feces) to get to the train at Cityplace station. The rail bridge over the Trinity River is terrifying. If the train is moving fast enough it will shake violently. So much so you think it’s going to derail. Not a fan of facing a horrifying death every time I go home. Oh and while I’ve gotten used to being constantly disrespected here in Dallas as a cyclist, its especially vexxing on the train. The train only has 4 spots for a bicycle, and you can bet there will be someone sitting there. No bag, no cart, no wheelchair, no stroller, just their fat rear end that could be sitting ANYWHERE else on the train plopped right there in the bicycle spot. If you ask them to move they pretend like they can’t hear you.

    And I could go on and on. And I’m suppose to pay for this travesty? And they want to raise the prices even higher?? LOL Guess I better get used to bicycling 10+ miles just to get to work and back.

  • brent young

    i lived in Dallas/Ft Worth for 23 years, i live in Atlanta now, my Heart is Allways for D/FW, but at face value, Atlanta is a mutch more buitifull city, “green~wise” ; so i would also think Denver with the Rocky Mountains would be also; and people tell me Boston and Portland are “Culture”of the “Paris Type”…etc ,etc…
    back to Atlanta ; we may have a buitifull major city here, but Atlanta and Georgia is the most (Segregated~Devisive) City and State i have ever lived in, and i work and Live at the Cumberland/Sun Trust Stadium Area, with 258 countries, interacting together here…at this point ; 8 counties “Divide” its huge Metro, so each one does its own transit ; Cobb County alone, with a population equal to Fort Worth, and More…, Has (no) Light Rail, its “main street, Cobb Parkway, is Dallas Central Expressway, but is operating as a road from the 1970’s ; it should be four, “really five”, lanes on both sides, with turn lanes and Light Rail, it is two, and All the “turn lanes” are near Sun Trust Park…it makes Central Expressway look like a “cake~walk”…
    But “saying” All that…people look at Atlanta as a “Buitifull” City…
    So how Does Dallas/Ft Worth [land] Amazon, if cities like Atlanta “Outshine them in Buity”…”downtown dallas” got very close too the “right conception”…
    All the Land on “downtowns” southside, the “concrete~jungle”, should be put together, and (redeveloped) into a Massive “Tech and Smart City”, with the Trinity River as a Huge Lake and Park, and Oak Cliff as a Residentaul Hub, including High Rise Towers, Overlooking the Trinity and Southside of “downtown dallas” […Bold Vission, and Partnership], is “WHAT AMAZON WANTS”…then your “Dart” will fit in very nicely…you must “Think and Dream, Very Big”, …then the (transit will fit perfectly)…
    you need to “understand” Dallas/Fort Worth, that too “Outshine” a more “Buitifull~City”, like Atlanta, which Honestly is Harder too move around in(Transportation~wise) than Los Angelas,…you NEED TOO AGRESSIVELY THINK BIG!!! or Cities like Atlanta, will Allways “Outshine” your “green~building”…with Real Green.
    Sincerely and True

    • brent young

      …did you “know” your “green building” was Originally Designed to Be Two Twin Supertall ROLEX GOLD Seven Steped Pyrimid Towers, “lnterFirst Plaza”(b.o.a.), it would of “OUTSHINED” New Yorks, World Trade Center Towers…and the Original “Fountain Place”, Twin Towers, Turned at 90° at Each Other, the “Angles Playing Off Each Other”, what a World Masterpiece…now “ruined”, with a new tower, reguarded as a “sibling”, and the “new conception”, TOTALLY “missing the mark”, of a Great Architecturaul Masterpiece,…for [LACK OF VISSION and PARTNERSHIP] …ironicly owned by an Atlanta Partnership…
      Sincerely and True

  • Los_Politico

    I’ll just leave this right here for Peter:

    ” in 2016, only 6 percent of people in Denver used public transit as part of their commute to work.”