Phil Foster

Transportation

The Woman’s Guide to Surviving DART

When embarking on Dallas public transit, every ride brings its own peril and pervs.

All good cities have good public transit systems. But Dallas isn’t a good city. Dallas is a great city! And Dallas Area Rapid Transit is a great public transit system. Maybe not in a conventional way, viz. getting you where you need to go, but it has plenty of other great qualities. Like, its light rail system is really long. At 93 miles of track, the most of any American city, it goes all over the place.

But if you’re planning to take a journey, it’s important to know how to survive. Especially if you are a woman and you are taking a woman journey. As a daily DART rider, I offer you these tips.

1. Always smile. Or don’t.

Every Wednesday, I leave work to catch the 12:28 Orange Line train from St. Paul Station, downtown, to the Walnut Hill Station to go to therapy. On the elevator, I had an awkward interaction with a co-worker, wherein he was like, “Lunch?” and I was like, “Going to see the brain doctor, ha-ha,” and I tapped my head, like it was funny. When I was two blocks away, running for the train, I realized my co-worker probably thought I have a terminal illness, not just a therapy appointment.

At the station, my train mysteriously did not appear, leaving me to wonder: am I late because it departed early or am I early because it’s running late? There was no way of knowing, since the arrivals board was broken and doesn’t update in real time anyway. When I texted the stupid DART number, it told me the train was there, so I guess there was a third option. It was invisible. The one thing I knew with certainty was that I was going to be late to therapy and waste half my session ranting about DART.

Sitting on the metal bench across from 7-Eleven, looking at my phone, I realized someone was staring at me. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that he was some sort of largish man.

“Smile,” he said. Then, because I didn’t smile, he said, “What’s your problem? You got a boyfriend or something?”

“Yes,” I said, “I have a boyfriend who is a sumo wrestler and enjoys beating people up. And has a pet dragon.”

The large man laughed. Oops. Now he thought we were friends. He moved closer.

Was he a sexual predator or an evangelist? It was hard to tell. Usually, the latter have pamphlets and the former do not, but both have, on occasion, told me I look like I “need Jesus.”

2. Be prepared to get off your train at the wrong stop.

The train arrived. The large man followed me onto the car. Maybe it was just his train. Maybe he was following me. Maybe he would follow me off the train, too. Maybe nobody else would be there when I got off, in the bleak, inhospitable landscape of the Walnut Hill DART station—except for him. In that case, I will hope he is an evangelist, which is a thing I have never hoped about anyone before.

This is why you must always be prepared to get off at the wrong stop. It’s not just about avoiding the ones who will leer at you, talk to you, ask what you’re doing all alone. It’s not just about the ones who will slowly, quietly reach out from behind you on the train and touch your hair. A man once followed me onto the platform at Walnut Hill Station, across an island of dirt and through some bushes, to a shadowy street crossing and along a sidewalk, quickening his pace, as I broke into a run and finally had to jump into traffic to lose him. Is there any better system for a creep to track a woman than her daily train commute?

3. Don’t expect any help.

I bought an annual pass on DART. In the last year, I’ve had my ticket checked exactly once. This seems like a design flaw. Checking tickets would probably decrease the opportunities for creeps to follow me on and off trains, stalk me, harass me, and, one time, pull a knife to scare my friend.

The system flaws are maddening. When I got to my therapy session, I did, in fact, spend half of it ranting about how DART always lets me down. Surprise! It turns out that it’s all about my father.

4. Do not accept drugs.

Strangers will offer you drugs, especially at the West Transfer Center and West End Station. It’s not like The Wire; people aren’t palming Double Cheese or Election Day. It’s usually more like: “Do you want drugs?” Because a direct question deserves a direct answer, I respond with a polite “No, thanks.”

5. Plan for the bus.

Surviving the train is one thing. But to get home from work, I have to take the bus, because I’ve elected to live somewhere where the trains don’t run.

The trick to riding the bus is timing it perfectly. I leave the office at the last possible moment to limit my exposure to the challenges of waiting at the bus stop while still arriving in time to catch my bus—a feat made more difficult by the fact that the bus tends to leave whenever the bus driver feels like it.

That same Wednesday, as I left work at the end of the day, my co-worker was in the elevator again. “I don’t have brain problems, you know?” I said, and tapped my head. “I mean, I just have issues. Like, but just thinking issues. Tissues!” Then I wondered if I did, in fact, have a brain problem. Again, this isn’t really a DART tip, but he’s still my co-worker, and I don’t want him to think I am crazy, which I’m definitely not.

My bus left three minutes early. I ran after it with my backpack, with everyone staring at me, which was embarrassing, and then I had to wait 30 minutes for the next No. 42 to come. I sat down on the bus and a man sat next to me.

He was like, “Hey, girl.”

I put my headphones in.

He shouted, “What are you listening to?!”

I was like, “Music.”

And he was like, “What kind of music do you like?!”

I was like, “Everything.”

He shouted, “Everything?! What about Nickelback?! You like Nickelback?!”

6. Respect your bus driver.

One night, late, there was a crazy person on the bus. He got violent. The driver called the police. I sat on my bus seat, crouched like a cat. The police interrogated the man. Then the police interrogated the driver. Then the police interrogated me. It was a whole big interrogation thing.

The police handled it well. It was not like other times when I have seen them standing over a prostrate body in the middle of the West Transfer Center.

My bus driver is always afraid. Ever since the July 7 shooting, he told me, he is afraid of every passenger who gets on his bus carrying a backpack, who might have a gun. “Anyone on this bus might be a serial killer,” he told me, looking around.

I was carrying a backpack. It was green, with pineapples.

At Christmastime, I told him, “Merry Christmas!”

He gave me his Cheetos.

7. Keep your phone charged.

At the end of my harrowing yet typical Wednesday, I found that my phone was dead. That meant no DART pass, because “the circle” must be complete and I am a compliant iPhone-carrying droid who is the problem with the world right now and who has her DART pass on her phone. I crossed to the West End Station to buy a ticket, because the bus station, although it is a bus station, does not sell bus tickets.

All four ticket machines were broken. By the time I figured this out, my bus had come and gone. Which meant I had to wait another half-hour for a ride. I walked over to Platform F, where a group of men sat on the bench, waiting to talk to me.

Comments

  • downtownworker

    I take DART because it’s more convenient than driving based on where I live and where I work. That said, there are times that I feel like I’m in a moving insane asylum that smells like urine and question my choice to use transit. It helps that I’m a 6’1 male in decent shape and don’t always feel like a potential victim. However, I do always wonder what it’s like for female passengers, particularly at night. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • NealK

    I like the idea of DART but in practice it is a horror.

  • mrEmannE

    As a regular DART Rider(train and bus), I can relate to much of what this piece describes, albeit not from a woman’s perspective. That said, I can’t help but feel that much of the personal angst expressed relates more to the fact that we, as human beings, have reached a point of alienation where we experience all others as annoying Interlopers in our own lives. Added to the societal breakdown of manners and common courtesy, this can make all public engagement seem problematic and dangerous. But other than fixing their technical and service problems, of which DART has many, I really don’t see how DART is to blame for everything we riders must put up with. DART is a shared service. And it can’t operate for only one person at a time. We have to take responsibility for ourselves, and to a certain extent, for each other, and learn to exist together. Bad behavior makes bad people, not the other way around, although at times it may seem that way.

    • vc25AEMP

      Regular rider here…

      While I agree with you to a certain extent, the fact remains that DART has a “Code of Conduct” that goes virtually unenforced (https://www.dart.org/riding/codeofconduct.asp). There is little to no police presence on trains and, at stations that actually have any kind of DART police presence (mainly West End), there is no real enforcement.

      The DART Code of Conduct has 17 listed prohibited acts. Anecdotal story, but still relevant: thanks to a delayed bus, I missed a train connection at West End one summer day and had 20 minutes to kill. I decided to pull up the DART COC on my phone and checked off the items I saw in that 20 minutes. I witnessed 14 of the 17 prohibited acts in one 20 minute span while multiple DART police officers stood around looking at their cell phones and ignoring the chaos around them.

      I swear, I’m not making this up: I literally watched a man throw his empty Bud Ice can onto the tracks (prohibited acts #2 and #8), light a half-smoked cigarette (#1), drop his pants to his knees exposing his bare butt (#11), and urinate on the platform wall (#11 again). He then pulled up his pants and walked over to a group of what appeared to be tourists to ask them for a dollar (#10). When they told him no, he walked across the tracks at the middle of the platform with a train entering the station (#16) to beg another group of tourists (#10 again). All of this took place within 25 feet of DART police officers who either were completely oblivious to what they are there to enforce or, more likely, deliberately looked the other way.

      The “shared experience” will always be less comfortable in the best of circumstances…but, tack on the lack of/selective enforcement of the Code of Conduct and it becomes this land of lawlessness. As long as DART rail platforms (and, in reality, DART trains) are open to all, with or without a paid fare, the experience for the majority of people who obey rules and mind their business will continue to be generally terrible.

    • Wendy Flatt

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      Women are not feeling annoyed; we are worrying about our personal safety. My 18 YO daughter rode the DART rail and bus lines to school for about three months, and she experienced every one of the events in the article, from “want drugs?” to “smile!” to having to get off at the wrong stop because her “something’s wrong” radar was going off. It really is different for women. We have to worry about things like being raped or groped or followed home. Make eye contact with the wrong person, and you have a potentially dangerous situation with no obvious help in sight. It’s self-preservation, not annoyance.

  • Kyle Reese

    Get a bike and some pepper spray.