Across the U.S., commuters are trading in their cars for trains and buses. According to a study released Wednesday by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, two-thirds of the country's 100 largest cities saw jumps in the number of miles traveled each year on public transit between 2005 and 2010 as gas prices soared and routes expanded.
In Dallas? Not so much.
According to the study, the Dallas-Fort Worth region experienced a 12.6 percent decline in public transit usage during that period. In 2005, the average North Texan traveled 111 miles on a train or bus. In 2010, that figure was down to 96.9.
The data doesn't reflect ridership on DART's Orange Line or Denton's A-Train or Arlington's inaugural bus route, all of which went online after 2010, so it's possible that the figure has rebounded somewhat. But it's not as if the system was shrinking before that.
PIRG's report doesn't offer much by way of explanation. Dallas saw a modest 1.2-percent drop in the proportion of workers commuting by car between 2000 and 2011, which is only partially accounted for by a similarly modest increase in the number of people working from home and an increase in unemployment. Bike commuting remained flat.
Dallas' public transit users can at least take some satisfaction in beating Houston, which saw a 20-percent drop in ridership rates that were already more than four times lower than DFW.
This doesn't necessarily undercut PIRG's underlying argument that the national driving and transit data should convince states and cities to shift investment from roads to other transportation options. Dallas' statistics are probably more reflective of the continuing shift of population toward the far-flung suburbs than any innate dislike of transit, but they certainly give a bit of ammo to those inclined to write off expanded public transit as an expensive boondoggle.
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