A new report on transportation equity demonstrates that Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s zeal to build the largest light-rail system in America has harmed the city’s low-income population. While the report (really a PowerPoint show) itself is fairly mild in tone, the interpretation by Dallas Observer columnist Jim Schutze is anything but moderate.
DART light-rail lines, “built at costs in the billions, reach up into Carrollton, Plano and Rowlett — suburban areas that need light rail like they a ski lift,” says Schutze. Meanwhile, “DART does an appalling job of providing mass transit to inner-city, low-wage workers who need it.”
Schutze makes this out to be a debate between cities vs. suburbs, compact development vs. sprawl. But really, it is a question of what is the appropriate mission for transit agencies. Outside of those few urban areas with large downtowns–New York, Chicago, and a few others–most people don’t ride or need transit, so transit agencies have to come up with some rationale for continued subsidies. At one time, that rationale was that poor people needed mobility too. But now, most poor people have cars, so today the rationale is the need to get middle-class people out of their evil automobiles. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
“The Dallas-Fort Worth region is currently designated as a serious non-attainment area for ozone by the Environmental Protection Agency,” says page 1-8 of the final environmental impact statement for Dallas’ Northwest Corridor rail project. This is also known as the Green Line extension of an existing low-capacity rail (formerly known as light rail) line.
“The project corridor [is] one of the most congested highway corridors in the region,” the FEIS adds, noting that “Travel time delay and congestion levels in the corridor are increasing.” So naturally, the Dallas Area Slow Transit (DAST) decided to build a $1.8 billion, 28-mile low-capacity rail line to solve these problems. (For some reason, the FEIS and DAST’s web site erroneously call the agency “Dallas Area Rapid Transit,” but there is nothing rapid about low-capacity rail.)
So how well does $1.8 billion worth of low-capacity transit do at solving problems of congestion and air pollution? Not well at all, at least if you believe the FEIS, which was written by proponents of the project. According to page 4-13, it takes virtually no cars off the road. However, it has a huge impact on intersections: according to page 4-16, seventeen intersections that will have A, B, or C levels of service without the project will have D, E, or F with the project. At least one goes all the way from A to F.
With typical fanfare, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced $1.5 billion in “Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery” (TIGER) grants to 51 cities. The complete list of grants includes new “modern streetcar” (isn’t that an oxymoron?) lines in Dallas and Tucson, plus an extension of the existing streetcar system in New Orleans.
“In an overwhelming show of demand for the program,” said LaHood, US DOT “was flooded with more than 1,400 applications.” What a surprise to find that there is an overwhelming demand for free money.
Among the lucky winners was Tucson, which received $63 million toward the $150 million cost of a 3.9-mile streetcar line between the Arizona Health Sciences Center and the University of Arizona. So now students can take the streetcar to the hospital when they are too drunk to walk. (Sorry, that’s an insult: most students are too smart to ride streetcars.)