Dallas Area Rapid Transit Regroups

Dallas has spent more than $5 billion (more than $8 billion in today’s dollars) building the nation’s longest light-rail system, and has very little to show for it. In 1991, just before Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) began building its first light-rail line, the region’s transit systems (including Ft. Worth and various suburban lines) carried 19.4 transit trips per capita. That’s not much, but it’s more than they carry today: despite having 93 miles of light rail and a 34-mile commuter-rail line, the region carries just 14.1 trips per capita.

At first, the public seemed to respond to the light rail. In 1995, the year before it opened, DART buses carried 44 million trips. By 2001, with 23 miles of light rail, buses plus light rail carried more than 60 million trips. Per capita ridership peaked in that year at 20.1 trips.

Ridership continued to grow and reached 75 million trips in 2004. But it wasn’t keeping up with population growth, as trips per capita had fallen back down to 19. After the financial crisis, DART bus and light-rail ridership fell to 55 million and today has only partially recovered to 66 million. One reason for the decline was financial: vehicle miles of bus service have fallen by nearly 10 percent since 2005.

DART was planning a downtown subway and another commuter-rail line, both of which would cost roughly a billion dollars. But some Dallas officials are beginning to question the wisdom of building light-rail to the suburbs at the expense of bus service in the urban core, where transit’s real market is located.

Newspaper columnist Jim Schutze argues that Dallas has the worst transit system in America because it is focused on “building a slow-poke, light rail, surface-running system that screws up traffic, takes forever, attracts miserably few riders and, as a result, operates at an ungodly subsidy.” The real purpose of that system, he says, is “to serve as an amenity and sales-pitch bauble for suburban apartment developers” (who, incidentally, are likely to also get TIF subsidies for developing near light-rail stations).

Last week, the Dallas city council replaced three DART board members with people more interested in focusing on the urban core than the suburbs. Unfortunately, that means they want to build the downtown subway, which is an even stupider idea than building more surface light rail. This would be a light-rail subway, more aimed at reducing downtown congestion than at moving large numbers of people.

According to the FTA’s 2015 analysis, this subway would be three-quarters of a mile long and be part of a 2.4-mile extension that would cost $650 million. The project depends on 50 percent support from the federal government, which the Trump administration does not want to provide.

It appears that, rather than being sensible about offering transit service where it is really needed, the Dallas city council just wants more pork barrel and developer amenity baubles coming into the city rather than its suburbs. This is missing the point of a transit system, which should be about transportation, not pork or social engineering.

Dallas should get off the light-rail kick and concentrate on providing a decent bus system. Such a system could provide better service to a lot more people for a lot less money.

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11 thoughts on “Dallas Area Rapid Transit Regroups

  1. Dave Brough

    “Dallas should get off the light-rail kick and concentrate on providing a decent bus system. Such a system could provide better service to a lot more people for a lot less money.”
    Really? Bus, to borrow from Jim Schutze, is “a slow-poke, surface-running system that screws up traffic, takes forever, attracts miserably few riders and operates at an ungodly subsidy.”
    What about taking a page from what happened at Morgantown 30 years ago https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morgantown_Personal_Rapid_Transitand is about to happen at Ajman City in the UAE where six-seater, battery-powered driverless vehicles running on elevated guideways will transport users without intermediate stops anywhere along the 45-mile long network?
    https://www.transportxtra.com/publications/local-transport-today/news/53861/world-s-largest-autonomous-electric-rapid-transit-system-planned-for-uae-in-indian-uk-tie-up

  2. prk166

    —-


    In 1991, just before Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) began building its first light-rail line, the region’s transit systems (including Ft. Worth and various suburban lines) carried 19.4 transit trips per capita. That’s not much, but it’s more than they carry today: despite having 93 miles of light rail and a 34-mile commuter-rail line, the region carries just 14.1 trips per capita.
    ” ~anti-planner

    One of the pieces of rhetoric often employed by pro rail transit folks is that it’s routing is fixed. The idea is that it leads to more investment. Could it be that the drop in per capita transit trips with all this new rail is evidence that whatever investment is occuring, if any, isn’t anywhere what is needed to make railw worth it?

    Or maybe being fixed is the problem, that with time the people living along the line age. Older people make less trips. As time goes by, more and more of those households within that 1/4 – 1/3 mile from station walking point are making less and less trips.

  3. prk166


    What about taking a page from what happened at Morgantown 30 years ago https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morgantown_Personal_Rapid_Transitand is about to happen at Ajman City in the UAE where six-seater, battery-powered driverless vehicles running on elevated guideways will transport users without intermediate stops anywhere along the 45-mile long network?
    ” ~Dave Brough

    Mr. Brough,

    PRT’s an interesting beast. I suspect that a lack of technology has been part of what has held it back. Managing all those vehicles with direct routes without crashing them isn’t easy. And of course powering them isn’t easy either, electric guide-way for them adds 15 – 25% to the capital costs. Liquid fuel isn’t a great option either.

    The system you refer to uses rubber wheels and electric batteries to get round these problems. Keep in mind the only working example of it is very limited, just 15 stations on a coupe routes at Heathrow. It’s a fairly small, manageable problem. We don’t know how it’ll fair on a large system.

    The real advantage — and disadvantage — it has,is that it’s a dumbed down automated mini-bus system. They put in some concrete pillars and automated mini-buses just enough that they could run around on their own. They can do this because the Heathrow environment is a closed system where they don’t need to solve problems like avoiding pedestrians or dealing with other vehicles. It’s a smart move in some ways.

    Keep in mind that PRT, in concept has been around since the Korean War. Its nearly the same paradigm as light rail.
    It moves people via a fixed guidewy. Instead of a few trains carrying 50 – 300 people inbetween a few stations, it’s 50 trains carrying 1 – 5 people to a few stations. It does this to try to make the service more convenient at a lower capital cost. than LRT. The hope is that you can capture more users because it’s more convenient. Of course, without a human driver driving a car, you have a lot of issues that they either can’t solve yet – such as matching a vehicle to a person efficiently – or they just avoid by sinking extra $$$$$$ into having a seperated right of way.

    Sothe issue with this new twist on PRT is that alll the things that allow for it’s lower capital costs – like rubber wheels on a road – means that to operate in real cities it’s either going to have to have a very expensive well separated right-of-way or require a level of automation to be able to avoid pedestrians, etc. And if we can do that then, well, that’s the most pressing probelm.

    The most pressing problem is that the PRT you refer to is a gradation away from being nothing more than a fleet of automated mini buses. Those automated minibuses can use the existing infrastructure; not even concrete bumpers are needed. They’re being made and tested by quite a few companies in the world, including some that are starting to test them in real city environments. Why invest 10s or 100s of millions of dollars into PRT at a time when we’ll probably have technology that turns it’s advantages into disadvantages?

  4. CapitalistRoader

    What about taking a page from what happened at Morgantown 30 years ago [and] is about to happen at Ajman City in the UAE where six-seater, battery-powered driverless vehicles running on elevated guideways will transport users without intermediate stops anywhere along the 45-mile long network?

    So, all six people have to be going to exactly the same place? Or is there an in-motion disembarking system?

  5. Dave Brough

    @CapitalistReader: “So, all six people have to be going to exactly the same place?”
    I suggest two modes: Personal mode would take those six pax to one station; Group mode would ride-share during stress periods, such during peak rush hour or a stadium event.

  6. Dave Brough

    @ PRK166 “@Why invest 10s or 100s of millions of dollars into PRT at a time when we’ll probably have technology that turns its advantages into disadvantages?”
    And that technology would be…?’’
    If you’re thinking DL, think again. It will be years perhaps decades before DL will be able to achieve the significant penetration that will make it useful, and even then, it will create even more congestion. Better yet, combining DL with PRT to achieve door-to-door is, I say, the answer.
    Make it high-speed and you also eliminate high-speed rail and 85% of air travel.

  7. CapitalistRoader

    Better yet, combining DL with PRT to achieve door-to-door is, I say, the answer.
    Make it high-speed and you also eliminate high-speed rail and 85% of air travel.

    DL is autonomous vehicle? If I’ve got the acronym right, then DL is PRT.

    Speed is relative. I can easily envision AVs traveling at 100mph on highways with cars packed together with no more than a single car length between them, which will cut congestion by 1/2 or more. But AVs will never rival air travel for hauls longer than, say, 700 miles. Even tacking on 1.5 hours to the front end and an hour on the back, 500mph airplanes are going keep the 700 mile+ market.

  8. prk166

    Mr. Brough, PRT is a on the spectrum of driverless vehicles. What PRT does is severely limit the options in an attempt to be able to solve the difficult problem of connecting the points. It’s all about network complexity.

    If you want to play the game of “well, we’ll believe it when we see it” then that is nearly as bad for the PRT you praise. It’s been around not for a decade but for 3 generations. Despite all that time, it’s so feeble that it’s biggest accomplishment is what? A system with a dozen stops at an airport.

    PRT in the real world on a large scale isn’t any closer to being a reality than a 100% autonomous car. It’s far less used today than autonomous vehicles. It isn’t just Google, Ube, Waymor and Volvo that are testing driverless cars on real city streets in San Fran, Austin, Pittsburgh, et al.

    Google is literally having _families_ using driverless minivans in Phoenix. Can you imagine the hoops they had to go through to get their lawyers and PR people to buy into that? There are driverless buses being used ( aka tested for ramp up )all over the developed world right now: Las Vegas ( Arma ), Paris, London ( Oxbotica ), Bay Area ( EasyMile ), Singapore ( Navya ), etc.

    Adoption of 100% autonomous vehicles on a large scale is a way off. But the first to adopt will be the high volume uses like buses and transit initially. We’re seeing that with autonomous buses literally on the streets all around the world in 2017. This is happening.

  9. prk166


    Newspaper columnist Jim Schutze argues that Dallas has the worst transit system in America because it is focused on “building a slow-poke, light rail, surface-running system that screws up traffic, takes forever, attracts miserably few riders and, as a result, operates at an ungodly subsidy.” The real purpose of that system, he says, is “to serve as an amenity and sales-pitch bauble for suburban apartment developers” (who, incidentally, are likely to also get TIF subsidies for developing near light-rail stations).
    ” ~anti-planner

    It’s perfectly rational for any organism or organization to live to feed itself. Follow the money. Transit just like any other org lives for it. When 80% of your revenue comes from tax dollars doled out by the politicians, you”re going to do what they ask you do. Rightly or wrongly because of the money, they’re the actual customers of public transportation. They just don’t normally use it.

  10. the highwayman

    “It’s perfectly rational for any organism or organization to live to feed itself. Follow the money. Transit just like any other org lives for it. When 80% of your revenue comes from tax dollars doled out by the politicians, you”re going to do what they ask you do. Rightly or wrongly because of the money, they’re the actual customers of public transportation. They just don’t normally use it.” -prk166

    Yes, but you teahadi’s aren’t angry, because you got screwed over. You’re angry, because you didn’t screw other people over! :$

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