The yellow ares show parts of Dallas that have less than two trips-per-hour on the DART's network. Grey areas equal no trips, illustrating how DART fails to provide transit to large swaths of the city.

Good Public Transit

Bombshell Report Reveals DART’s System-Wide Inadequacy

UTA's Institute of Urban Studies' comprehensive look at DART's transit system reveals its role in perpetuating poverty and income inequality.

At this afternoon’s meeting of the Dallas City Council’s Mobility Solutions, Infrastructure & Sustainability committee, researchers from the University of Texas at Arlington’s Institute of Urban Studies will brief the members on a new and groundbreaking study that, for the first time, comprehensively reveals the failures of Dallas Area Rapid Transit to provide adequate public transit to its member cities. The analysis exposes a failure that is contributing greatly to lingering issues of poverty, inequality, and a lack of upward mobility in the region.

You can read the report briefing here, but here are some key statistics that reveal how DART really functions:

  • Transportation is unaffordable to 97.44 percent of the population of Dallas.
  • More than 65 percent of residents who are dependent on transit have access to less than 4 percent of regional jobs.
  • More than 73 percent of Section 8 Multifamily Affordable Housing properties in Dallas are unaffordable when transportation costs are factored in.
  • About a third of Dallas residents and transit-dependent residents do not have walking access to a transit station.
  • On average, just 18 to 22 percent of the population has access to high frequency service during morning and afternoon peak hours; but during off peak hours, that number drops to just 9 percent of the population. In the late evening, half the population must wait 30 minutes or more for transit or has no transit at all.
  • Even though DART boasts the nation’s longest light rail network, DART Ranks 23 out of 29 for large- and medium-sized transit agencies in the U.S. in terms of bus passenger miles per capita
  • Since 2000, poverty in the city of Dallas has increased 22 percent, while the city’s total population has only increased by 9.7 percent.

The major takeaway is this: DART fails at its core function as a public transit agency; that is, getting people who live in its service areas to and from their homes and work. When looking at which residents in that service area are most likely to rely on transit—those who can’t afford other transit options—DART is even worse at providing access to jobs. In one fell swoop, the report illustrates how Dallas’ income inequality and lack of upward mobility are directly related to the failures of its public transit agency.

Drilling down into the details, the report reveals that DART fails to provide reliable service, accessible service, or service that can bring workers to their places of employment. The reasons are multifaceted. For one, sheer physical distance is an obstacle for transit use for as much as a third of the Dallas population.

Routes that reliably connect people where they really live to where jobs exist is another pressing problem. The data also shows that DART’s system is designed for 9 to 5 commuters. There are vast drop offs in levels of service after peak morning and evening rush hours. Which is ridiculous, if you think about it for 30 seconds. Workers who don’t have typical 9-to-5 schedules are more likely to rely on public transit. But when it comes to DART, they are out of luck. As far as people who might use DART for non-commuting reasons, such as evening and weekend entertainment? Forget it.

But that’s only part of the story. Even in peak hours, which is the focus of DART’s service, only 18 to 22 percent of the population has access to the kind of frequency of service that is reliable. Unsurprisingly, the study reveals a correlation between density and areas with a mix of housing and job locations and transit affordability.

It also reveals that the situation isn’t that much better for drivers located in transit-dependent locations. On average, Dallas residents can reach only 34 percent of jobs by driving. The disparity is illustrated in a map in the study that shows how low-wage job growth is increasing in the far, northern fringe of the region outside the edge of DART’s service area, while the low income population is concentrated south of Interstate 30.

What this translates into is a kind of time poverty: Those who can’t afford reliable transit or can’t afford to live in areas of the region closest to jobs must also pay for the time it takes to get to their place of employment.

All of it reflects the end result of a city policy over the past few decades to support a brand of regional growth that has seen employment centers migrate northward. But by linking DART’s development to that regional growth—investing in a sprawling light rail network as opposed to a functioning transit system—DART has only exacerbated the disconnect. As a result, the report reveals that lack of access to transit is one of the great equality issues facing this city and directly relates to perpetuating cycles of poverty.

Transit Frequency (as % of Population in Each Category) for Four Different Time Frames of a Typical Weekday by Council District in Dallas

Dallas prides itself on relative affordability, but when taking transit costs into account, Dallas isn’t a very affordable city at all. The study shows that, as you venture further south in the city, there is a greater percentage of household income spent on transportation.

Not that riding DART is particularly expensive. Affordability is the one area that DART does fairly well. Putting aside for a moment the proposed fare hikes DART will decide on over the next few months, the agency compares well to agencies in other cities when it comes to cost. But that’s not to say that there aren’t areas to improve.

For example, DART doesn’t currently offer an option for low income residents to quality for its reduced fare rate (probably because low income Dallas residents comprise a lion’s share of DART’s customer base). But the results show that affordability is not a barrier for ridership, meaning DART should keep things as they are and search elsewhere for areas to improve. However, since DART tends to do everything that is the wrong thing to do, this is the one area DART is messing with the machinery, planning to raise fares in the coming months.

Ultimately, what this study reveals is that DART’s historical attitude toward its mission as an agency is completely flawed. For the past 30 years, DART has been a construction agency, focused on building out the nation’s largest light rail network, while failing to act as a transit agency and provide reliable public transit for its member cites. It’s time for DART to learn how to be a transit agency. This report is the wake-up call that should push public officials, and the DART board in particular, to shift the focus of the agency from construction to mobility.

Let’s put it this way: There is no success of Grow South until transit is dealt with seriously. There is no national competitiveness until Dallas fixes its transit mobility and upward mobility issues. Dallas’ pressing problems with poverty and income inequality cannot be dealt with until transit is addressed.

That means completely changing the metrics and priorities by which DART measures its success. Because it is painfully clear that the way DART has evaluated its success in the past does not correspond to the reality of how people use public transit. Instead, it has only resulted in a squandering of 30 years of public investment and billions of dollars of tax revenue.

What’s next?

First, this study should be expanded to the full network. If we are to take DART and the Regional Transportation Council seriously as public entities that are interested in providing reliable public transit in the region, they should follow the city of Dallas’ lead and have UTA’s Institute for Urban Studies look even more broadly at access to transit and employment for the entirety of DART’s coverage area, in each of its 13 member cities. Too often issues at DART reduce into city vs. suburb squabbles. But what UTA’s study reveals is a way of looking at the DART system that can show how DART is failing all its member cities. New priorities and policies must be set.

Kudos to Dallas for finally taking a leadership role on transit and taking a step in the direction toward steering DART on the right track. Now it is time for our elected public officials and the representatives on the DART board to hold the public transit agency’s staff’s feet to the fire.

Comments

  • Los_Politico

    “Transportation is unaffordable to 97.44 percent of the population of Dallas.” There’s no way this is true, but if it is, the easiest way to address it would to be building more bike lanes. Every major road in Pleasant Grove could be have car lanes turned over to bikes with no effect on traffic.

    I’ve been surprised and heartened to see so many teens of various income levels using the shared bike services in my ‘transit dependent’ neighborhood. Kids I never saw on bikes before.

    • Peter Simek

      That data point is comparing what percentage of their income Dallas residents pay towards transportation vs. the “affordability threshold” of 15 percent of income. Dallas residents on average pay 19 percent of their income for transit, while DART service area residents pay 20 percent of their income to transit. Sure, “affordability” may be a relative term, but if an ideal world scenario is that people pay 15 percent of their income for transportation, most Dallas residents have to pay more than that.

      • Los_Politico

        There is no way that only 2.56% if residents are paying less than 15% of their income for transportation. I pay about 7%, most of my neighbors are likely close to me and I don’t live in an affluent area. And yes, I’m factoring in all the cost of maintenance and ownership.

        Just do the math backwards. There are what? 4M residents in the study area, probably 1.75M households? So only 45,000 households are spending less than 15% of their income on transportation? That doesn’t pass the smell test.

        I’ll reiterate that cycling costs almost nothing and cycling +DART can get you almost anywhere in 30 minutes, even from hard to serve areas like southeast Dallas.

        • The_Overdog

          Agree. If you are going to set a 15% percentage as affordable, and *everyone* is blowing past it, (and the numbers start to get outrageous as incomes increase) then I think the metric is incorrect. So the average family is paying about $10k in commuting costs per year (per BLS here: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/cesan.nr0.htm), but if you jump to $100k in income, then it’s $20k in commuting costs? Really? That’s the cost of approximately two Range Rovers.

          What’s interesting is they don’t even find that worth exploring more deeply.

          I think the problem is they take an average, and then attempt to directly scale it to various incomes, and it doesn’t work as that average already includes the expenditures on the upper end. You can see that only the people in Highland Park pay less for their transport. O RLY?
          On the other hand, I also pay about 7% of my house hold income on 2 cars, so I guess I’m one of those 45,000!

      • obamaniac

        good call not footnoting that dubious bullet point.

  • Gregg Welpe

    Including Lake Ray Hubbard skews the results of this report to a degree or at least the visual with an area of 35.54 square miles.

    • obamaniac

      Ferry service in Ray Hubbard, White Rock and Trinity River are long overdue.

  • obamaniac

    should we follow the money re: this report? Isn’t Arlington the largest city in the U.S. with no public transportation and the Rangers and Cowboys are complicit in this to rape the metroplex via parking dollars to build palaces for their owners?

    • obamaniac

      asking for a friend

      • obamaniac

        also, can a disconnect be exasperated or did you meant exacerbate?

  • mrEmannE

    Let’s forget about holding DART staff’s feet to the fire, and March them straight out the door instead. In all its years of existence DART has never demonstrated the slightest interest in providing genuine customer-based service. You are absolutely correct that it will require a complete paradigm shift and a change of the way DART does business. I do not believe the current management staff is capable of making such a change. I am sorry that I have to be this abrupt, but as a regular DART rider(I do not own a car), I have to say I believe it’s time we burned down the mission.
    New Century. Let’s start over.
    #TimeForADoOver

  • Luis Gutierrez

    I am a DART rider and have always been a strong advocate for public transit. I have been on other more efficient systems such as RTD, Houston Metro, MTA, just to name a few. There are more options on how to get around in those systems then DART. We all have know that DART is inefficient and does not get you where you need to go in a convenient or timely manner. I have found short cuts while using DART but not everyone will want to walk or want to wait for a transfer. If DART want to grow they need to listen to their customers, provide better bus service, later hours, better transfers, more express service, and get rid of the planners they have today. I am sure Gary Thomas and all his office staff have only set foot on a train and bus when they where opening or introducing the new trains and buses.
    I think it is also ironic to get UTA’s input on urban planing and engineering! No mass transit in Arlington maybe just maybe they should have included Arlington in the transit desert!!!

  • Fixing is not that difficult. 1.) Add sidings to all rail stations for passenger loading and unloading. This require some engineering and expense. But, it facilitates thru traffic for express trains. We have no express trains now. 2.) Run express buses crosstown. 3) Eventually add crosstown trains. 4.) Add ticket-checking gates for accessing the rail system. The current system of DART personel checking tickets on the trains makes no sense for an urban rail system. 5.) Fund the work with expanded ridership as people see DART is actually faster than bicycling and competitive with driving. 6.) Rails should run above or below all intersections with no possible contact with cars, trucks, motorcycles, pedestrians and so on. 7.) Use mass transit in Tokyo and Osaka as models for transit layout and timing. That is, make sure you can get within a few minutes walk of anywhere. And make sure the trains run synchronous with each other so people can always make connections. Make sure the buses run regularly so people can count on them for on-time arrival.

  • Hoping for failure is self-defeating. Instead, create hope by working for a better rail system.

  • The_Longview

    The problem is more with land development in area cities. Not enough allowance for people of lower income to live near jobs in the suburbs. Not enough jobs getting built near people with lower incomes. NIMBYs rule in city land use decisions. Not enough development located near DART

  • Casey

    As a regular rider of DART, this confirms something I have suspected for awhile. The fare enforcement officers always get on and off at Cedar station and 8th&Corinth station. Of course these two stations are on either side of where the rail crosses the river into south Dallas. This guarantees that the only people that DART is shaking down for money are poor minorities.

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