Shocker: DFW Public Transit Does a Terrible Job of Getting People To Work

Splashed across the front page of the Morning News today, large and above the fold, is an article detailing a new Brookings Institution study that measures how well public transit connects people and jobs in the nation's 100 most populous metropolitan areas: "D-FW among worst for getting to work on public transit."

I was a bit surprised. I'd seen the item yesterday on DMN's Transportation Blog but assumed it'd be buried in the metro section, seeing as the front page tends to be devoted to actual news. Anyone who's tried to get somewhere on DART that is not a straight shot down a train or bus route or, worse, had reason to hop between suburbs using public transit, knows first-hand the yawning gaps in our transit system. Given the ever-swelling suburbs, it's no wonder that only about 4 percent of Dallasites commute via bus or train.

What the Brookings Institution study does is quantify exactly how badly linked our jobs and homes are by public transit. DFW ranks 81st in that regard, with only 58.2 percent of jobs in neighborhoods with public transit and 14.7 percent of the population within 90 public-transit minutes of the average job. The national average is 75.5 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

What's driving this is, of course, fairly obvious: "The suburbanization of jobs obstructs transit's ability to connect workers to opportunity and jobs to local labor pools," writes Adie Tomer, the study's author. Or, more simply, sprawl.

Tomer told the Morning News that Dallas' transit system is among the best in the country. "The problem is we know that most people don't live and work in Dallas. They either do one or the other."

Also, from the study: "In other large metro areas like Dallas and Atlanta, core transit agencies cannot overcome suburban jurisdictions that elect to ignore transit service entirely."

We're looking at you, Arlington.

So the problem is obvious, at least to anyone who acknowledges that forced dependence on the automobile is indeed a problem in American cities. And this at least isn't DART's fault, whether or not you think chasing suburbanites with a sprawling hub-and-spokes system, rather than building one focused on the urban core, is a wise idea. But what's the solution?

Tomer shies away from proposing a fundamental rethink of policies that have encouraged the sprawl that has exacerbated the inadequacies of public transit. Instead, Tomer opts for a more pragmatic approach, suggesting things like routing improvements, locating businesses in neighborhoods served by public transit, and the encouragement of mixed-use, transit-accessible development in the suburbs.

The Brooking numbers show this can work. Los Angeles, the poster child of endless sprawl, ranks first on the list, with 96.5 percent of its jobs in neighborhoods with transit. And San Antonio, which is both sprawling (though much less so) and in Texas, ranks 44th. But Tomer argues it will take a concerted shift in policy to encourage accessibility.

New approaches to transportation investment, a fundamental restructuring of associated economic policies and expanded investments in data infrastructure: "Fixing these regional transportation shortcomings is not solely a transportation problem -- it's a governance issue," Tomer concludes.

Which is probably bad news for Dallas transit proponents. This is Texas, after all, where governance is a very, very bad word.

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