By Wendell Cox
Op-ed published by
Op-ed published by
In 1983, Dallas area voters approved the DART tax and transit plan. They were told that DART would build 160 miles of rail over 14 rail routes, without relying on federal funding. It was projected that DART bus and rail ridership would rise from 140,000 daily to 500,000. A principal justification was that the DART rail system would attract automobile traffic, which would help Dallas avoid the traffic congestion problems of Houston, which had gained national attention at that point.
A decade and a half later, DART has delivered considerably less. The rail system has been scaled back to barely 50 miles, with construction costs escalating 60 percent inflation adjusted. Meanwhile, DART has managed to become one of the nation's most costly transit systems, with hourly costs 85 percent above the industry benchmark. DART spends enough on light rail to operate two of the larger San Diego bus and light rail systems.
Four DART rail lines now operate and daily bus and rail ridership is barely 200,000, which includes counting twice the riders who transfer between the two. Most of the new ridership has been on DART buses, not on light rail. Meanwhile, the North Central Texas Council of Governments metropolitan transportation plan (Mobility 2020) now projects that total transit ridership in the entire Dallas-Fort Worth area will reach a more modest 375,000 by 2020. And traffic congestion? It has increased 25 percent since the DART tax was approved and Dallas hasbecome as congested as Houston, which has reduced its congestion by nearly 10 percent by building more roadway capacity.
DART's rail system has failed to reduce traffic congestion for two reasons. First; it is simply too slow. DART data indicates that the light rail system operates at an average of 14 miles per hour, less than a half the average peak hour automobile commuting speed in Dallas. Second; the rail system provides access to only a small part of the Dallas area. It is focused on downtown, which contains just 10 percent of DART area employment, on its way to seven percent in 2020.
But despite a record that would qualify DART for inclusion in the next edition of Peter Hall's classic Great Planning Disasters, the civic spinmeisters have crafted a script that has convinced a large part of the populace that DART's rail program is a success. The recent Don Monaghan Viewpoint in the Dallas Morning News is reflective of this script. This "dumbing down" of success is more than just disingenuous, it could also mislead the community to implement transportation programs that would do virtually nothing to alleviate increasing Metroplex traffic congestion.
Indeed, it is already happening. Mobility 2020 includes plans for a massive expansion of rail services over the next two decades throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Per person mile spending on transit will be 75 times greater than on area roadways. Even after that massive investment, transit would account for less than one percent of Metroplex travel. If this is success, what is failure?
Roadway traffic is growing in the Dallas area because population is growing. It is simply impossible to build a rail system that provides quick and ready access to more than an infinitesimal percentage of destinations in the Metroplex. No amount of social engineering will get people to leave their cars in preference for a transit system that doesn't take them where they need to go, and where it does go it takes them too slowly. Houston has reduced its traffic congestion by focusing on the problem --- accommodating the traffic growth that will occur without regard to the latest politically correct theory of how and where we should live and work. It is time for local transportation officials to cast aside their wishful thinking, and commit the available resources to the problem at hand. Sixteen years have already been lost. It would be a shame to waste another 20.