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DART Talks Need to Shine a Light on Public Transit

Photo: Kinkisharyo, via Flickr
Photo: Kinkisharyo, via Flickr

The first time I mentioned to a fellow intern that I take public transit from my home in North Richland Hills to downtown Dallas I swear they thought I had two heads. “What’s the TRE?” they asked. “Dallas has a train?” marveled another. “You mean, you have to walk 10 minutes from the DART station to the office?” someone wanted to know, horrified at the thought.

I was confused. Back home in Toronto, Canada, taking public transit was part of almost every commuter’s, well, commute. With the Toronto Transit Commission’s extensive subway line, army of buses, and fleet of diesel GO trains and coach busses, there’s nowhere in the city you can’t get to by public transit. Even Toronto’s old, but still capable streetcar line ushers almost 300,000 commuters to and from the downtown core each day.

What gives?

I get it. Dallas is a car city. The (fairly) wide lanes and next to no traffic (have you ever heard of Toronto’s Don Valley Parkway/Parking Lot?) make the decision of driving in to the city an easy one. And, okay, so DART isn’t the most time-efficient way of getting anywhere. And, sure, you almost always have to walk at least 10 minutes from one of the stations to get to where you need to go, but it is the largest light rail system in the U.S. That has to count for something, right?

Yesterday, the Dallas Morning News reported that DART is attempting to re-examine the way it brings non-member cities, like Arlington, into the DART network, which will hopefully continue to create a transit system that people actually want to use.

Since DART was created in 1983, the process of joining the system has been the same: citizens vote on the imposition of a 1 percent sales tax to fund public transit within the city. To date, 13 member-cities make up the transit system.

DART’s board has amended its policies in recent years to allow non-member cities to contract with the agency. Cities such as Mesquite have been given a three-year contract with DART in which the city itself covers the entire operating cost of the bus service.

Although these new provisions proved to be a positive advancement in DART’s attempt at bridging the public transportation gap in North Texas, questions regarding what will happen after the three-year contact ends are looming.

As DART, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, and the city of Arlington begin negotiations to bring a commuter bus line to the city’s downtown core, DART board members are becoming increasingly apprehensive of the options given to non-member cities that wouldn’t have to pay the 1 percent sales tax and have no real commitment to the service.

As the board readies to vote today on a number of proposals that will limit the length of such contracts, as well as require that these cities pursue long-term service and financial plans, I hope, for the sake of us car-less folk, that these talks shine a spotlight on the need for better, more efficient transit in the DFW area.

Christina Colavecchia is a D Magazine intern.

  • Bobtex

    The citizens of each city in the area who voted for DART many years ago made long-term commitments to tax themselves (and everybody else who shopped in their cities) in order to build and maintain a public transportation network for the benefit of those cities. Where the citizens of a city have not made those commitments and have enjoyed lower sales tax rates (thus benefitting themselves and their local merchants), they have not participated in our public transporation network, yet they have in many cases piggybacked as freeloaders on the system that others paid to build and maintain.

    Now, those freeloaders want to jump the line, and muscle their way into the network without matching in an equitable way the financial contributions that the member cities have made. They do not want to pay their fair share of the cost of establishing a regional system, but think that they should only be charged some incremental cost of adding them to the service plan.

    The answer to these short-sighted, noncooperating, self-centered cities is: NO.

    If Arlington, Grand Prairie, Mesquite, Frisco, Allen, Sunnyvale, and all the other suburban moochers want to join the system, they should play by the rules that have been in place from the beginning, or contribute in some equivalent way.

  • Mark

    Supporting DART has been the biggest single mistake the citizens of Plano have made in the past 30 years.

    The cities of Allen, Frisco, and McKinney all have sales tax rates of 8.25%, just like Plano, but instead of sending a substantial portion of that money to DART, all those cities keep the cash and use it for local purposes.

    Plano has sent roughly one billion dollars (yes, that’s B for billion) to DART since its inception. Just think how much better off Plano would be now had that money been spent in the city.

  • Bruce

    Hi Christina,
    Welcome to Texas from a fellow Canadian. I lived in Toronto for 13 years before moving to Texas. It is amazing how light the traffic is compared to Toronto, but from a North Texas perspective it is heinous. The TTC always gets slammed by Torontonians but is quite efficient and was moderately priced. I lived on King West for awhile on the street car line and know the volume of people.

    I think you could compare this change in DART to the TTC trying to extend to Mississauga.

    Have fun down here. If needed, I can send you a care package of Swiss Chalet sauce packets and Tim Horton’s coffee.

  • TheSlowPath

    I know right, I mean poor people ride the bus and all. What are they even doing in Plano?

  • Dubious Brother

    I know what you are talking about. It used to cost 25 cents to take the tollway downtown from Northwest Highway and just about the time they paid off that road they doubled the toll to 50 cents so they could extend the tollroad to allow more people to use it and then they raised it to 75 cents to extend the tollroad to Plano and then …. well I don’t even know what the toll is anymore since it now is a road for people in the suburbs and who wants to subsidize their commute?