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DART Dilemma: Expand Coverage Area Or Increase Ridership?


Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) is reconsidering some of its routes, and that could affect service to people who’ve come to rely on it. KERA's Justin Martin talked about the potential changes with reporter Juan Pablo Garnham, who's been covering the issue for The Texas Tribune.


Why Has DART Ridership Declined?

It's important to note that this is a trend across the country, so there are only a few exceptions where ridership in general, especially in buses, hasn't declined. If you look at it in the rest of Texas, the trend is very similar in other big cities.

In particular, when I spoke with people at DART, they were mentioning two factors: One was the two recessions that we had in the 2000s that led to cuts in service. The other one that they mentioned that I thought was really interesting was the fact that low income families and individuals are moving more to the suburbs. And when they move to the suburbs, it becomes so much more difficult to serve them.

In general, public transit works well in areas that are dense, that are not sprawled like the suburbs are. So you need a lot of people, either jobs or people living in housing in specific places, so that the system can work well.

What Changes Are DART Proposing?

What they are going to do, and this is coming in the next month or so, is that they are going to present two bus plans. One that's going to be focused on coverage, that's going to look very similar to what we have right now in Dallas; and another one that's focused on frequency.

That means that maybe they are gonna cut some routes, or maybe they are going to change the line in a way that it's more direct. Maybe it doesn't have as many stops inside of the neighborhoods, maybe it just goes through one single avenue, but that will help reach more people in a faster way.

How Widespread Will The Changes Be?

We actually don't know, it will depend on what Dallas wants to do.

But the other thing that they were telling me is that Dallas has already started making these changes, so maybe we won't see the radical changes that did happen, for example in Houston when it changed its system around five years ago.

How Will This New Plan Be Implemented?

There's going to be all these canvassing surveys, there's going to be a lot of discussions in DART. It's important to know that DART's board is composed of 13 cities — not all the cities want the same. Bussing of course is a high priority for the city of Dallas, but not necessarily for a suburban city, so there's going to be that discussion at the board level and in parallel with these two proposals.

The consulting firm is gonna go into bus stops, stops of light rail, and they are going to ask people what do they think. They're going to show them these two options.

Basically, they were telling us that their idea is for Dallas to decide how much they want to dial this kind of decision between high coverage and high-frequency. After that, there will be a new proposal. And after that, that will be voted by the board. That's why it takes so long.

There's going to be also town halls and community meetings. So if you're interested in these issues, you have to be on the lookout for what DART is going to be communicating so that you can see the proposals and make your voice heard. 

Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity. 

Justin Martin is KERA’s local host of All Things Considered, anchoring afternoon newscasts for KERA 90.1. Justin grew up in Mannheim, Germany, and avidly listened to the Voice of America and National Public Radio whenever stateside. He graduated from the American Broadcasting School, and further polished his skills with radio veteran Kris Anderson of the Mighty 690 fame, a 50,000 watt border-blaster operating out of Tijuana, Mexico. Justin has worked as holiday anchor for the USA Radio Network, serving the U.S. Armed Forces Network. He’s also hosted, produced, and engineered several shows, including the Southern Gospel Jubilee on 660 KSKY.