Spinning Their Wheels
Dallas’ paltry public transit system makes owning a car all but required. So as the metroplex booms, many low-income residents are shut out of jobs and services they need.
By Mark Dent
April 20, 2020
On a rainy Wednesday morning in January, Keidreana Sims and Kristin Johnson are headed to their first day of work at Sterilite, a plastics factory about 30 miles south of Dallas in Ennis. The sisters are excited: The warehouse job pays $13 an hour, with a potential raise to $14 after a few weeks of good attendance. They check their phones every few minutes, nervous about being on time for the 7 a.m. orientation.
“I like warehouse jobs,” Johnson says. “And warehouse jobs are far out.”
Neither Johnson, 22, nor Sims, 20, has a car—they can’t afford one. So before they could start at Sterilite, they had to figure out if they could even get there.
Just finding the job presented logistical hurdles. To get to a staffing agency in the suburb of DeSoto, Johnson and Sims walked from the home they share with their mother in Fair Park to a nearby rail station and took the train to the University of North Texas Dallas stop in far southern Dallas, just north of Interstate 20. There, they waited on a bus that comes by once an hour, and only during morning and afternoon rush hours. Although their neighborhood is about two miles from downtown—tucked between interstates 30 and 45—a trip that would have taken 25 minutes by car was nearly two hours by transit.
The Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, which added more than 100,000 jobs in 2019, leads the nation in job growth and has boomed with new residents and amenities. But some neighborhoods—particularly south side communities like Fair Park, where 1 in 3 households is below the poverty line—have been cut off from that development. Dallas’ paltry public transit system makes it difficult to reach northern and southern suburbs, where new jobs and services have clustered, without a car. Even as their city grows around them, low- and middle-income residents are effectively shut out.
In January, a study from the nonprofit Citizens Budget Commission found that the average household in Dallas-Fort Worth spends $1,365 on housing each month and nearly as much, $1,165, on transportation. That makes it only slightly more affordable than New York City when both expenses are considered.
A study by the data analytics company Inrix found that it costs $10,841 a year to own and operate a vehicle in Dallas. Unlimited rides on Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) bus and rail lines come in at a fraction of the cost: $1,152 annually. But unlike in New York City, San Francisco, and other cities where residents can ditch their cars for public transit, Dallas’ public transportation isn’t a reliable option.
“It’s a transit system that is not built to help these people.”
In 2017, Shima Hamidi, then a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, defined some populations as “transit-dependent,” referring to people who lack dependable access to cars and rely on public transit, walking, and other forms of transportation. She found that areas in Dallas-Fort Worth with high concentrations of low-income people, minorities, and zero-car households are part of a transit-dependent core. Although the suburb of Arlington and a pocket of northern Dallas that stretches into Garland were designated as transit-dependent, by far the largest affected area in Hamidi’s study was southern Dallas, a broad swath of the city that reaches from I-30 south of downtown all the way to the city limits. Half a million people live there.
Hamidi found that one-third of Dallas’ transit-dependent residents did not live within a quarter-mile of a bus stop or a half-mile of a rail station, a common threshold for access. And people in the city’s transit-dependent areas had access to less than 4 percent of jobs within a 45-minute commute time using DART. “It’s a transit system that is not built to help these people,” Hamidi says.
This inability to get somewhere quick—or get there, period—is more than an inconvenience. It can be the difference between a high-wage job and a low-wage job—or a low-wage job and nothing at all. A 2015 Harvard study revealed commute times to be the strongest predictor of a person’s odds of escaping poverty: The longer the average commute in a given area, the harder it is for families to move up the economic ladder.
And the lack of public transit in the Dallas area makes car ownership all but a requirement, so that households spend “a substantially higher percentage of their income—even more than housing sometimes—on transportation,” Hamidi says. “It means the other important items on household budgets, like for food and for health care, they have to cut from those.”
DART faces a formidable task: connecting the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, which consists of 7.5 million people spread across more than 200 cities and towns over some 9,000 square miles, with transit. While the agency manages a fleet of more than 600 buses that service more than 11,000 stops, critics contend DART has focused too much of its funding and attention on its 93-mile rail line. Sandy Greyson, who previously served on both the DART board and city council, describes the agency as being “fixated on rail and rail expansion.”
Patrick Kennedy, an urban planner and a member of DART’s board since 2016, says the agency mostly built its rail routes along old freight lines that were convenient to buy but not strategically located. Many of the 64 stations are in sparsely populated areas, and routes are designed to funnel people into downtown, which is growing in population—particularly with college-educated residents—but increasingly not where jobs are.
The longer the average commute in a given area, the harder it is for families to move up the economic ladder.
Bus service has not kept pace with Dallas’ needs. Transit-dependent residents must often take two to three transfers to reach their destination, and infrequent service during midday and late-night hours, when many shift workers must commute, means a missed bus can lead to major complications. Dominique Torres, an attorney and DART board member, is well aware of the challenges. She lives in Pleasant Grove in southeastern Dallas and often rides the 111 bus to work downtown. But she says the bus runs only every 30 minutes; on weekends, it’s every hour. “I’m lucky because I have a flexible schedule,” she says. “You have people who aren’t able to get jobs, and if they [can] it takes them a long time to get there.”
DART is further constrained by the many municipalities that don’t participate in public transit. The 13 cities currently serviced by DART fund it through a 1-cent sales tax. But thriving suburbs like McKinney, Frisco, Allen, and Arlington don’t have DART. Instead, they are dedicating tax revenue to incentivize companies to move in and create jobs that many workers who rely on public transit will inadvertently be excluded from. “That’s kind of a messed-up situation,” Kennedy says.
In spring of 2017, Hamidi presented her findings on transit-dependent populations to the Dallas City Council. She warned that the city’s middle class would bottom out if workers weren’t better able to access jobs. In response, then-council member Mark Clayton questioned how Dallas could continue funding DART—it receives some $300 million annually in sales taxes—without making drastic changes. “We have got to start taking seriously our appointees,” said Clayton, referring to the seven people city council picks for DART’s 15-member board. “And if they can’t fix this then they’ve failed, and we shouldn’t have them on there.”
Within three months, the city council had replaced four of those seven members. In October, the city hired its first transportation director, Michael Rogers, who moved to Dallas from Raleigh, North Carolina, where he helped build a rapid transit system that allowed buses to bypass traffic.
Rogers says the city did not think strategically about economic development—namely, how to use housing and transportation policies to ensure everyone could benefit from Dallas’ growth. “I think we’ve been happy to let development happen, but the city has to take a better and more active role in ensuring [new developments] are where we want them to go,” he says.
Gordon Shattles, a DART spokesperson, said Hamidi’s research was “one of the reasons” DART has, since 2017, added or expanded several services geared toward bringing riders the last mile—from the end of a rail or bus line to their home or place of employment—including the on-demand shuttle service GoLink and a carpooling service called GoPool. In 2019, DART hired transportation consultant Jarrett Walker to design a new comprehensive bus plan. After Walker overhauled Houston’s bus system in 2015 to cut down the number of routes and stops in favor of buses that pass more frequently and finish routes faster, monthly ridership increased by 3.3 percent in the first 10 months and remained steady.
But DART’s focus remains on rail, which largely does not take transit-dependent residents where they need to go. In 2019, the agency broke ground on the Cotton Belt, a long-discussed $1.1 billion rail line that would connect the northern, wealthier suburbs to the airport. A unanimous vote to move forward with the project happened in 2018, a year after the massive turnover of DART’s Dallas board members, who had been replaced in part because of their support of the Cotton Belt line. In January, DART announced plans for a $1.3 billion subway line. It will serve only downtown.
In the summer of 2015, Curtis Corbins was looking for a new job. Since he’d dropped out of UT-Arlington decades earlier, he had started a nonprofit to serve at-risk youth, run a long-distance trucking company, and sold real estate. When he went to visit Edna Pemberton, a community activist in Oak Cliff, he told her he wanted to get back to serving his community. While he was there, he says, then-Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings called Pemberton and mentioned that the Inland Port, an industrial area in far southern Dallas, was beginning to take off but workers were not able to reach the area by transit. “[Pemberton] told me what the problem was,” Corbins says, “and told me to go solve it.”
Corbins, now 55, borrowed a friend’s SUV and piled in as many people he could. He took workers from the Ledbetter Station in southern Dallas to the Inland Port, which employs thousands of people in logistics and warehouse positions, and to the Texas Workforce Commission, which assists people looking for jobs and seeking unemployment benefits. Now his nonprofit, Southern Dallas Link, employs six drivers and operates seven vehicles that take people from DART stations to their jobs.
It was a Southern Dallas Link SUV, driven by Corbins’ friend Frank O’Neal, that got Sims and Johnson to Sterilite for their orientation in January. The service is not cheap: Employees at Sterilite, who work three to four 12-hour shifts per week, pay $20 for each round trip. Still, it’s a reliable way to get to work.
Corbins says he’s hoping to find additional funding through grants that will help him reduce the price to $5 round trip. To date, he’s received nearly $200,000 from organizations like United Way and the Communities Foundation of Texas. And he continues to push DART to expand its newer services to southern Dallas. Last year, he helped the South Dallas Fair Park Transportation Initiative complete a needs assessment in an attempt to convince DART to bring the GoLink on-demand shuttle services to Fair Park. Instead, DART expanded the service to the affluent Park Cities and Lakewood communities. “They’re using it in areas that don’t need it,” Corbins says. Contrary to complaints from Corbins and residents, Shattles, the DART spokesperson, says Fair Park is one of Dallas’ best-served areas and that adding GoLink to Fair Park would be considered as part of the bus redesign project.
Meanwhile, other options are proliferating in areas without traditional transit. STAR Transit is a bus service that receives some public funding and serves a handful of suburban areas, connecting riders from outlying DART rail stations to housing complexes, retail stores, and job centers; in 2018, it launched an on-demand service that takes riders door to door for $3 in Terrell and has since expanded to Mesquite. At the Inland Port, employers have organized DART carpooling services to pick up workers in areas underserved by traditional bus and rail, and the agency has paired with Uber to get the ride-sharing service to offer discounted UberPool rides in the area.
Rogers, Dallas’ director of transportation, praises alternatives like Uber but cautions too much reliance on private companies that may not serve communities equally. “I always like making sure that municipal or county government is involved, and we take equity into that picture,” he says.
City Council member Tennell Atkins represents District 8, which covers the southernmost portion of the city. He fears mediocre transit options could have a cooling effect on development in southern Dallas. “We have jobs in the Inland Port,” Atkins says. “But sometimes because of a lack of transportation, [employees] can’t get to work on time. Then the companies have to retrain another employee, and it may cost $3,500 a year to train another employee.” Companies, he says, will quickly realize it’s more expensive to do business in a neighborhood without transit and relocate elsewhere.
Atkins’ district is home to Red Bird Mall, a formerly bustling shopping center that declared bankruptcy in 2008. Now, with the help of $22 million from the City of Dallas, it’s getting new life as a mixed-use development with office space, retail stores, and apartments. Peter Brodsky, the investor behind Red Bird Mall’s redevelopment, has said he wanted to provide jobs for those who have to “drive too far to Frisco or west on I-20 to Grand Prairie and Arlington to work.”
But by transit, southern Dallas residents located just a few miles up the road from Red Bird Mall must still take a trip that requires at least two bus lines and 40 minutes of travel. From Fair Park, the 12-mile trip would take nearly 90 minutes, requiring either two rail lines and one bus line, two bus lines and one rail line, or three bus lines.
It is, at least, faster than walking.
This story is the from ourspecial issueon housing. This issue also marks the start of our new housing beat.
What is the problem with Dallas public transportation? ›
Dallas' paltry public transit system makes it difficult to reach northern and southern suburbs, where new jobs and services have clustered, without a car. Even as their city grows around them, low- and middle-income residents are effectively shut out.What is access to transportation? ›
Access to transport services measures the . ease of reaching. transport facilities and is closely related to the concept of mobility, which covers the ease of moving around using all transport modes (including walking).What are the benefits of public transport? ›
Benefits of public transport
you don't have to worry about finding a parking space. it reduces congestion in towns and cities. using public transport is cheaper than owning and operating a car. no more sitting in traffic jams in rush hour thanks to bus lanes and other bus priority measures.
Overview. Public transit is essential to everyday living in communities across the country, providing access to jobs, schools, shopping, healthcare, and other services while enabling equitable access and sustainable mobility options. Unfortunately, 45% of Americans have no access to transit.How many people use DART in Dallas? ›
Incidents involving harassment, violence and lack of safety at DART stations and buses have increased in the last months, leading to concerns among residents who rely on public transit daily. From January to March 2022, 428 incidents were reported, according to Dallas Area Rapid Transit data.What are the 4 types of transportation? ›
Air, Road, Sea and Rail. These are the four major modes of transport (or types) in the logistics industry.Why do we need transport give at least five reasons? ›
(i) Connects the people. (ii) Sense of belonging in the people living at far places. (iii) Helpful for business activities. (iv) Helpful in the period of crisis.Which state has the best public transportation? ›
Vermont ranks first in the nation for transportation. Wyoming places second in this subcategory, followed by Oregon, North Dakota and Kansas. Learn more about the Best States for transportation below.Who uses public transport the most? ›
- The following is a list of United States cities of 100,000+ inhabitants with the 50 highest rates of public transit commuting to work, according to data from the 2015 American Community Survey. ...
- New York City, New York – 56.5%
- Jersey City, New Jersey – 47.6%
- Washington, D.C. – 37.4%
- Boston, Massachusetts – 33.7%
Why we should use public transport essay? ›
Public transport is the easiest mode of transport. Public awareness must be increased to use public transport at a greater extent. It will in turn reduce the pollution, traffic jams and also lower the rates of accidents as public transport has to undergo many safety measures.How does public transportation help the community? ›
Improves Community Mobility
Inter-city transit systems help riders move throughout the area, regardless of the borough or neighborhood they live in. Many people do not have the capability to drive, so public transportation is sometimes the only option to help them get to their destination.
Transportation moves people and goods to different neighborhoods, cities, states, and countries; and it allows people in those various places to trade and do business together.Who owns DART Dallas? ›
|Dallas Area Rapid Transit Light Rail|
|DART Blue Line train at Akard station in downtown Dallas heading towards Downtown Rowlett station|
DART had a daily ridership before the pandemic of nearly 15,000, with annual ridership of about 4.4 million.Which city in Texas has the best public transportation? ›
Dallas Fort Worth has the most extensive rail transit in Texas. It has 95 miles of metro rail, 4 lines, with 60 stations, 3 suburban train lines, two streetcars, and a fourth suburban line under construction. Two subway stations, one open air, the other enclosed and 90 feet down.Is it safe to ride DART train in Dallas? ›
DART trains and buses are designed to be user-friendly, fast, convenient, and most importantly, safe. Take a few minutes to become more aware of your surroundings. In an emergency, always follow the instructions of uniformed DART personnel, police and fire officials.Do you need a car in Dallas? ›
Traversing a city this size isn't always easy without a car, but rest assured, where there's a will, there's a way. And there are plenty of ways to get around Dallas without a car. Founded in 1999, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) provides public transportation throughout the city of Dallas.Which is the cheapest means of transport? ›
Waterways are the cheapest modes of transport. They are also environmentally friendly because the fuel efficiency in this mode of transport is higher.
How did people travel in olden days? ›
In the early days, people had no means of transport. Whenever they had to go somewhere they walked on feet. They used animals to carry their goods. It took a great deal to time.What are the 4 basic costs of transportation? ›
- Line haul.
- Pickup and delivery.
- Terminal handling.
- Billing and collecting.
The three most prominent benefits of using Public Transport over single-occupancy vehicles includes the reduction of carbon emissions, air pollution (which results in better air quality) and congestion on roads—including traffic.What happens if there is no transport? ›
One month without transportation would essentially paralyze our society. At this point, our clean water supplies would be exhausted, leaving people desperate to survive. Our production is so reliant on goods getting to where they need to be, that it would be impossible to function without trucks.Do you think people should use public transport more? ›
Yes, as long as it's convenient for them. Public transport is obviously more environmentally friendly than private cars, so we could reduce air pollution by using it more.How does transportation impact economic growth? ›
How Transportation Creates Economic Growth. Sound transportation investments lower the costs of moving people and goods. This increases economic productivity, which roughly can be measured as the output of goods and services per dollar of private and public investment.What is the role of transport in economic development? ›
A transportation network makes markets more competitive. Economists often study resource allocation—that is, how specific goods and services are used. A transportation system improves the allocation process because it widens the number of opportunities for suppliers and buyers.What is the main purpose of transportation? ›
The Purpose of Transportation. The unique purpose of transportation is to overcome space, which is shaped by a variety of human and physical constraints such as distance, time, administrative divisions, and topography.Which city in Texas has the best public transportation? ›
Dallas Fort Worth has the most extensive rail transit in Texas. It has 95 miles of metro rail, 4 lines, with 60 stations, 3 suburban train lines, two streetcars, and a fourth suburban line under construction. Two subway stations, one open air, the other enclosed and 90 feet down.Is there public transportation in Dallas Texas? ›
DART is DFW's largest transit network, with 64 stations system-wide and 46 within the city itself. This includes direct links to DFW International Airport, Dallas Love Field and Union Station, as well as 19,000 miles of bus routes, including the free D-Link bus that connects Downtown Dallas and Deep Ellum.
Can you live in Austin TX without a car? ›
You'll likely need a car for errands and other trips, even if you can commute to work via public transit. People living near the center of the city in downtown East Austin or near the UT-Austin campus may be able to get by without an automobile, as there are more options to walk, bike and take transit than other areas.Which city has best public transport in USA? ›
- New York, New York. Transit Score: 84.3. ...
- San Francisco, CA. Transit Score: 80.3. ...
- Boston, MA. Transit Score: 72.5. ...
- Washington, D.C. Transit Score: 70.7. ...
- Philadelphia, PA. Transit Score: 66.8.
Vermont ranks first in the nation for transportation. Wyoming places second in this subcategory, followed by Oregon, North Dakota and Kansas. Learn more about the Best States for transportation below.Can you live in Dallas without a car? ›
Traversing a city this size isn't always easy without a car, but rest assured, where there's a will, there's a way. And there are plenty of ways to get around Dallas without a car. Founded in 1999, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) provides public transportation throughout the city of Dallas.Is Dallas a walkable city? ›
Walk Score Map
To navigate, press the arrow keys. Dallas is the 26th most walkable large city in the US with 1,197,816 residents. Dallas has some public transportation and does not have many bike lanes.
The Dallas Streetcar runs every 20 minutes, seven days a week, from 5:30 a.m. to midnight. There is a $1 one-way fare to ride the Dallas Streetcar if you do not have a valid pre-purchased DART pass. To pay your fare, you may use one of DART's contactless fare payment options.