Brace yourself, Dallas transit users. We're here to break some tough news: DART is losing.
We don't mean that the agency, now three decades old, has largely failed to woo people out of their cars. That's true, but it's not entirely DART's fault. Neither to we mean that the focus on building a commuter-centered hub-and-spoke system has come at the expense of a denser and more sustainable urban transportation network. There's room there for philosophical disagreement.
The loss we're referring to is far, far more humiliating, because of whom DART is losing to: the Texoma Area Paratransit System.
For the past several years, DART has been pushing to bring non-member cities into the system, some inner-ring cities like Duncanville and Desoto that opted not to join in 1983, and some farther-flung exurbs like Frisco and McKinney that were still rural when DART was formed.
Those efforts so far have failed. Meanwhile, Texoma Area Paratransit System has made inroads into Allen, McKinney and Collin County.
If DART doesn't find a way to bring cities like those into the fold, DART spokesman Morgan Lyons says, it could create problems. The existing system is already absorbing riders from outside the service area whose taxes aren't contributing to its upkeep. North Texas would also be wise to avoid the fragmented system that exists in the Bay Area, in which dozens of small transit agencies are operating, often with little coordination. Failing to penetrate further out, particularly into Collin County, means DART will be largely shut out of the region's growth.
Patrick Kennedy, the urban planner behind the push to demolish the I-345 bridge downtown, says the push outward suggests that DART is continuing to neglect the urban core to its and Dallas' detriment.
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"Extending the lines may not be a bad thing or destructive of other efforts," he wrote in an email. "Maybe it will be break even [DART's proposed policy stipulates that each city's contract has to cover the service costs], but I think that's actually a bigger bet than focusing on the area that could and should be higher density to support ridership, all around downtown."
He thinks DART should redouble its stalled effort to run a second rail line downtown to make the light-rail system more effective.
What Kennedy doesn't seem to grasp, however, is that if Dallas doesn't keep courting the exurbs, it will keep losing to Texoma, a place that's nice enough (we guess) but isn't quite world-class.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.