New Transit Data Makes DFW Look Extra Bad, Until You Realize It Includes Arlington

In honor of the opening of Washington Metropolitan Area Transit's new Silver Line, which connects previously unserved areas of Northern Virginia to the capital's sprawling public transportation network, Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight data journalism project has released an interactive chart of per capita public transit use in American metro areas with populations of more than 65,000.

Leading the way, as you might expect, is New York City, where residents of the metro area average about 230 trips per year. Rounding out the top are the Bay Area, Washington, Athens, Georgia, and Boston, all of which average between about 100 and about 130 trips per person each year.

To find the Dallas area, you have to venture way down the list, past San Antonio (56th on the list) Austin (58th), El Paso (67th) and Houston (91st). You even have to look past Lubbock, which comes in at No. 92, just after Houston.

With a paltry 14.7 rides for each resident, DFW hits the list at No. 102, one spot behind Binghampton, New York. Perhaps though, the news isn't as dire for Dallas and its public transit as it first appears.

To get its numbers, FiveThirtyEight divided the number of trips reported in monthly ridership data to the National Transit Database by the number of residents in each metro area as defined by the U.S. Census Department's American Cities Survey. In defining the Dallas region, that survey includes areas that opted out of public transit, like Arlington, which has but for a solitary bus route in Arlington's case.

"If you're in the New York metro area, yeah, you've got access to it," Morgan Lyons, DART's assistant vice president for communications, says. "If you're in the Washington metro area, Chicago, mmhmm, you do, but here we have substantial places that have made other choices."

Combined with the fact that DART is just 30 years old -- much younger than many of the highest ranked systems -- including large areas that the agency can't serve isn't really fair to the agency. The data is an indictment of the attitudes that keep public transit out of some DFW suburbs, perhaps, more than the agency itself.

That's not to say the agency can't do better.

"There's lots of stuff to chew on, absolutely, but our thing is can we continue to build a system that we can get people on and continue to grow some ridership," Lyons says.

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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young