On July 12, 2017 there was a meeting about forming a transit riders group for the DFW area. The meeting was at the Oak Lawn Public Library and was attended by over twenty people who share a concern about the state of public transportation in Dallas and the DFW metroplex. The event was organized by the North Texas Chapter of System Change Not Climate Change. The transit riders group is called North Texas Transit Riders
The focus of the meeting was on the proposed fare increase for the DART system and the Ft. Worth Transportation Authority (the T) and the Trinity Railway Express (TRE) and how the public can have effective input in the budget and planning process for public transportation. The next meeting of the Board of DART is scheduled for August 8, 2017 at 1401 Pacific Ave. and we need to be there.
The need for the fare increase was questioned by the participants. It seems that DART has included a fare increase every five years in its planning throughout its history, as noted in the 2017 Business Plan (2017 plan, p. 29). This proposed fare hike is approximately 20% which exceeds reported inflation rates by a considerable amount. Yet less than 10% of DART operating funds come from operating revenues, so at best the fare increase will add 2% to DART revenues (DART 2017 plan, p. 26). The percentages are similar for the Ft. Worth T 2017 budget (see page 111).
However, ridership has declined somewhat (DART 2017 plan, p. 133) and DART may raise more revenue with a fare reduction instead of a fare increase. It has been demonstrated that the price of gasoline has an impact on transit ridership. Public transportation use increases with higher gasoline prices and decreases with lower gasoline prices. This implies that DART should actually be reducing fares in response to the lower gasoline prices we have experienced lately.
The point was made in the discussion that the DART planning process seems to revolve around real estate development and improving real estate value and marketability. This is in contrast to the system being managed to provide public service and transportation for people in the community. The history of DART shows an emphasis on developing the rail system and a lack of concern for bus service and the people who actually use the public transportation system. To some extent, this can be traced to racial and class prejudice and irrational fear of others, but there are also economic interests in opposition to public transportation. Currently, the virtual monopoly of motor vehicle transportation provides a guaranteed market for fossil fuels, provides rich profits for banks, and justifies the military industrial complex. The public interest is not served by this situation.
The primary need of public transportation users is increased frequency and better connections, neither of which has seen much improvement in recent years. DART has no current plans for adding buses or for revising bus routes as Houston has recently accomplished. Additionally, there has been little development of supporting infrastructure such as sidewalks and bicycle paths, with the NCTCOG NCTCOG devoting less than 1% of spending to alternative transportation infrastructure.
The need to improve air quality and address environmental concerns was also discussed. The DFW metroplex has been an air pollution non-attainment area for many years. The principal source of air pollution is motor vehicle emissions, followed by small area sources and oil and gas fracking operations. It is common knowledge that we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to preserve any hope of a livable climate. We would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by switching to public transportation as the primary transportation mode, and more if buses are electric powered. Yet there is no practical choice in transportation due to infrequent schedules and poor connections in public transportation services. A DFW resident who cares about the environment has no practical means of acting on that concern in the transportation arena. This will require a major increase in public transportation if we are to also preserve our ability to get around. However, there is little effort for state government or federal government participation in increasing and improving public transportation. For example, about 99% of TxDOT funds are spent on highways and motor vehicle transportation.
Will DART and the T fulfill their potential as beacons of hope for a livable future and a desirable society, or will they continue to be mere cogs in the system of fossil fuel control and destruction of the environment? The answer is up to us. Please visit the North Texas Transit Riders facebook page, order some flyers, and speak out for reasonable fares and a vibrant public transportation system.