Advice for the Suburban Media Darling Daring to Ride DART

Hats off to the brave souls aboard the DART train.
Hats off to the brave souls aboard the DART train.
RadicalBender via Wikipedia

On Tuesday morning, the editorial board of The Dallas Morning News offered the newspaper of record's official take on Christie Myers, a 30-year-old white woman from the suburbs: She's awesome.

What makes Myers so awesome? After hearing harrowing tales of hours-long public transit commutes from residents of the neighborhood in southeast Oak Cliff she's seeking to revitalize as one of the newly minted general managers for Mayor Mike Rawlings' Neighbor Up program, she vowed to use DART full-time. Just like a poor person. The difference is that, unlike a poor person, she's publicly documenting every minor aggravation she encounters, from sweltering, minutes-long bus waits to a paucity of fare enforcement officers on the trains — occasionally under the hashtag #beautyandtheDART — with the goal of improving public transit in Dallas. "Don't be fooled by her cheerful, sunny exterior; she's a relentless warrior for this cause," the Morning News informs us.

The Observer  applauds Myers' bravery and sincerely (really!) hopes she can somehow make riding DART suck less. At the same time, it takes years to become truly familiar with the myriad ways that DART sucks. So, as a newspaper with multiple (i.e. at least two) public transit veterans on staff, we've compiled a list of handy tips to help improve her experience and understanding of DART.

Avoid Eye Contact at All Costs

The Morning News mentioned that you have a sunny disposition. Put it on ice, because that stuff doesn't fly on DART, whose riders generally prefer to wallow in the misery of their commute undisturbed. Best practice: Keep your eyes glued to email and/or Candy Crush at all times, so you can avoid eye contact; rebuff attempts at small talk by plugging your ears with headphones, which should be kept in place even when Spotify cuts out in the Cityplace tunnel; keep your face fixed with a neutral-to-surly expression; WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT SMILE.

To Become a True DART Warrior, Ditch the Car
Here's how the Morning News describes your commute:

A resident of Irving, Myers usually drives to the West End, where Neighbor Up has an office, and uses DART from there. Her schedule involves shuttling all over southern Dallas as well as getting to meetings throughout the city. She's become adept at apologizing for being perpetually late and sporting a less-than-fresh appearance — part of the price that public-transit users pay daily.

Park-and-ride is fine for a suburban commuter, but for a supposed transit warrior like yourself, covering the first leg by car is, well, cheating. The train ride from Irving to West End Station is a bit more than half an hour. If you don't live on the train line, the trip will spike to more than an hour. Add in what we'll call the DART Cascading Failure — arriving at a transfer just as a connecting bus or train is pulling away, which means a long wait and a guarantee that you'll miss your next connection, turning reasonable jaunts into hours-long ordeals — and you're missing out on a tremendous amount of potential transit-induced misery.

Also, having a car at your disposal, you might be tempted to cheat further and hop in the car when the going gets tough.

You will never be a true DART warrior unless you leave your car at home. Better yet, set that mutha on fire.

Wear Sensible Shoes
Walking sucks. Everything in Dallas is super far away, and many drivers unfortunately still have not read the Observer's comprehensive primer on how and why to not run over pedestrians. However, as mentioned above, riding DART also sucks, and it sucks particularly hard when one isn't traveling directly to or from a rail line, as you have discovered. It sucks so hard, in fact, that for short trips, walking can be a significantly faster way of getting from point A to point B.

Take the trip above. Assuming you wear sensible shoes and walk at an average pace of three miles per hour, you could travel that 2.5 miles in approximately 50 minutes without having to wait for a bus or worry about a missed connection. Which leaves a generous four minutes to catch your breath, frantically dab at the pouring sweat with paper towels from the destination's bathroom, and relax before your next meeting! Speaking of...

Abandon Hope of Any Shelter
There is no shade available and you have noticed that Texas gets very hot. Bring a water bottle. You'll survive. Also, buy an umbrella. 

Ditch the Gym Membership
Between chasing down connecting buses and the array of workout contraptions on DART trains, you really don't need it.

Less Fare Enforcement = More Drinking Opportunities!
On many occasions, Myers has noted that fare enforcement on DART trains can be infrequent, which she portrays as a bad thing.

What Myers fails to appreciate is that while infrequent fare enforcement means that scofflaws frequently get off scot-free, which probably has a slight tragedy-of-the-commons effect, it also means that there is no one who will stop you from enjoying the high-gravity alcohol of your choice during your commute.

A tall boy of Bud Ice fits quite nicely inside a paper sack, but so does a bottle of Thunderbird, if that's your speed. Not that the presence of a DART employee should keep anyone from imbibing. As you will discover if you sit across the aisle from a true DART veteran, buses offer many opportunities to sneak pulls from a paper bag without alerting the driver.

Avoid DART Technology Like the Plague

DART's GoPass app is great. You don't have to carry around $2.50 to buy a ticket on the bus and you don't have to wonder if the perennially broken ticket dispensers at the train stations will actually be functioning. The rest of DART technology is garbage. Use Google Maps to plot your route. Abandon hope that you'll ever be able to get real-time updates on where your bus is. It took five months — five months! — for DART to fix those electronic signs that announce when trains arrive, and there are only four train routes. At that rate, doing the same for DART's scores of bus routes will take decades.

DART Riders Can Smell Fear

Unlike driving, riding DART exposes you to the seething masses without a layer of metal and shatterproof glass to shield you. The key to survival is to act casual and focus on keeping your heartbeat as regular as possible. Like wolves and zombies, transit users can smell fear; with that musky scent in their nostrils, there's no telling what they'll do. Also, avoid making sudden movements while on the bus or train, such as pulling out your mobile device to publicly display your incredible courage.

Just be cool and play Candy Crush.

Lower Your Expectations
Like you, many novice DART riders puzzle over how DART is able to suck so bad. Eventually you will realize that your puzzlement resulted from a fundamental misunderstanding of DART's purpose. It is not meant to be an efficient means of getting from point A to point B; it is structured to placate the unwieldy collection of member cities who have forked over to DART untold millions in sales tax revenue with the expectation that they will get a their share of light rail and the transit-oriented development boom they're convinced will accompany it. This is why DART has the longest light rail system in the country, which has prompted DART to structure its bus routes so that they all converge on rail stations. This forces people like your constituents in southeast Oak Cliff to concoct Rube Goldberg-like commutes to reach any place not on the rail line. DART's secondary purpose — serving as a springboard for political climbers — means that agency leaders lack real-world transit experience and will be slow to create a more usable system.

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