(photo by Ethene Lin/Flickr)

Good Public Transit

Here’s More Evidence that Dallas Is Overdue for a Bus System Overhaul

Houston is one of two cities in the nation that posted increased bus ridership in 2017, a result of its redesigned system.

We’ve touted the Houston redesign of its bus transit system before. In 2015, our southern neighbor tossed out its hub-and-spoke bus routing — a bus system similar to the one Dallas Area Rapid Transit operates — in favor of a more intuitive and reliable grid-route system, with bus frequency boosted to once every fifteen minutes. The hope was that the increase in legibility and reliability would drive more public transit use. At first, ridership remained flat, sparking doubts that the redesign could work. But now, a new report by Mobility Lab shows that bus ridership is indeed on the rise in Houston, increasing by 6 percent in the last 6 months of 2017. It just took time for people to catch on.

Why should we care? The Houston model shows that providing reliable, quality public transit in a car-driven city isn’t rocket science. And yet, over the past 30 years, DART has managed to bungle its operations, building out one of the biggest light rail systems in the country that is, at the same time, one of the worst public transit systems in the country. The simplest way to explain this disconnect is that the people who are designing the DART system and the people using it have conflicting criteria for measuring service. DART officials think success is measured in dollars spent on rail. Riders see success as being able to get to work, appointments, and back home again in less time than it would take to fly to Europe.

The Houston model shows that a simple re-calibration in the criteria in how you measure a transit system’s success can help turn around a poorly functioning transit system. For Houston, this meant sacrificing some system reach in favor of usability. The headway times on the bus service are key. As urbanist Jeff Speck once said when addressing a conference in a small American city, if you don’t plan on having headway times of 15 minutes or less, don’t bother building public transit.

Unfortunately, that has not been DART’s attitude. It has opted instead to make sure there are bus stops in every nook and cranny of their coverage area, even if they are sometimes dangerously located and riders must wait forever for buses to arrive. The good news is, however, that DART’s attitude may change. New leadership on the DART board is pushing the agency to rethink its approach to bus transit, the criteria by which the public transit system evaluates success, and the possibility of moving toward a Houston-style grid-based bus routing system. Some of the early evidence of this behind-the-scenes work may begin to roll out by late summer.

If Dallas does go down this path — and it should — then Houston’s experience will offer another note of encouragement: introducing a grid bus system won’t change a city’s attitude toward public transit overnight. But given some time, it works.

 

Comments

  • PJCTX

    6% increase? That’s not remotely material or evidence of success. There are several ideas that seem to make sense to increase and enrich Dallas’ urban experience, but so many of these ideas by urbanists provide nothing more than minor, incremental changes. Greater density is critical to making so many of these ideas more successful, but I don’t know that Dallas actually wants more density (e.g., article about Oaklawn NIMBYism related to new apartments).

    • Peter Simek

      I agree.

    • RompingWillyBilly

      90% of the North Texas economy is powered by the auto and not mass transit. Dallas has great mass transit today in regards to how area business can build around it. The task is difficult as one doesn’t want to run it out to any of the luxury retail, the legacy shopping centers, or nice neighborhoods. One can add stations in the future though. Downtown light rail, that place where, in the future, people will be able to live without cars, isn’t downtown. It is the area along Central Expressway between Lemmon Avenue and Walnut Hill. DART needs to start looking outside of the downtown loop.

  • DubiousBrother

    If you don’t like the magic of DART, don’t move to Denton – https://empowertexans.com/around-texas/dentons-transit-agency-fiscal-train-wreck/

  • RompingWillyBilly

    Here is the thing. Houston once destroyed its uppity Greenspoint area by running a bus route out to it. This area actually at one time was so thought of that Nasher of NorthPark fame built a shopping center west of Greenspoint mall. Now it is called Gunspoint. Something similar happened to Prestowood Mall in Far North Dallas. In Houston, waves of wealthy then abandoned the city moving out to Sugarland and beyond because of the bus routes that delivered criminals and their crime to front doors. This is why it took Houston so long to get its Light Rail off the ground. Speaker of the House Delay would have all the grants for Houston canceled.
    In other words, there are different points of view regarding success when it comes to bus service.
    We can’t really discuss this topic in depth.
    Shhh . . ..

    • VibroniX

      And yet there are all kinds of buses that currently run through Park Cities, and rail near some nice luxury shopping like at Park Ln, and those areas are so run down from crime because of transit……..

      • RompingWillyBilly

        When Dart built its first rail line, they didn’t run it through North Oak Cliff, but around it. That has worked out to be brilliant.

        Indeed, the first rule should be #1) If it is already working as a corridor, don’t risk mucking it up. This should be known as the Houston rule as Metro the Giant has come in with huge clod hoppers to smash things in the name of progress.

        Read about the history of the once ritzy neighborhood of Greenspoint in Houston. It had Exxon as an anchor.

        Park Lane has yet to be around enough to be added to the long list of legacy shopping centers in Dallas. Aside from that, it is not directly connected. Anyone thinking it is good to directly connect legacy retail up to mass transit hasn’t given the matter a whole lot of thought.