Great Cities Have Great Transit
Chairman, Republic Title of Texas
Public transportation in North Texas is the tale of two cities. It’s the story of Dallas and Fort Worth as hubs, with several cities on the East side of the Trinity River joining Dart, and the West side forming Trinity Metro, formerly the “T.” In 1983, when Dart was funded by a one cent sales tax, city leaders understood the importance of transit in a rapidly growing city. Their vision was that great cities have great transit and that election was the first step for the Dallas region. In Fort Worth, the transit initiative in 1983 was funded by only one-half a cent with the other half cent going to public safety and relieving the general fund of Fort Worth of a chunk of the costs for public safety. Each region got what they paid for. Dart now has a robust transit system with the largest light rail system in the US, and spending $254 per capita on operating expenses for transit. Fort Worth, on the other hand, having a meager transit system by any measure, roughly serving the populations within Loop 820 and spending $71 per capita. So, why is this important?
Transit has many benefits. Of course, there is the benefit to the environment that perhaps doesn’t resonate well in Texas’ conservative state political system, but the benefit that is understood is economic development. For each dollar spent on transit, there is an economic development return of four dollars. UNT has done an economic development study on Dart, and their conclusion supports the idea that public transportation is really good for business. It also shapes cities into more dense environments that doesn’t strain city services as the sprawl of some of our suburbs. Have you noticed the recent economic development that occurred on the streetcar line from Union Station to the Bishop Arts District? It’s remarkable. And, it’s significant that Dart is building on this success by connecting the Bishop Arts line to the McKinney line. Does anyone think it’s a coincidence that on the East side of the Trinity there are 34 Fortune 1000 companies, and only 2 on the West side?
Another major benefit, of course, is social equity. The cost of operating a car In North Texas approaches $900 each month, and that cost strains many lower income budgets. It is interesting that a Harvard study concluded that the greatest predictor of being able to get out of poverty isn’t whether you go to a particular school or whether you come from a single parent family, but your commute time. If you can’t get to your job or school, you can’t have the freedom to lead a productive life.
Another critical benefit of transit is relieving congestion. Is the DFW region going to be the next Los Angeles with lost time stuck in traffic approaching 100 hours annually? Mayor Betsy Price of Fort Worth says you just can’t continue to build roads, but Houston is spending over $7 billion dollars on more roads after they completed the Kay Freeway with 44 lanes, and it’s already full. We all understand that roads cost taxpayer money for construction and maintenance, but the hidden costs of lost productivity while stuck in traffic congestion is a big deal too.
There is much work to do in all of North Texas on both sides of the Trinity. Dart needs to reconfigure many of its bus routes so that it actually gets folks to their jobs as pointed out in a recent UTA study, and continue its journey as the leader in public transportation in the region. Trinity Metro must partner with its cities to operate more frequently along its major corridors, develop some effective first and last mile options, and look into more fixed guideway solutions to moving people. This partnering by Trinity Metro means that general revenue funds will necessarily have to come from Fort Worth and surrounding cities, and this investment must be made on the West side of the Trinity River, so we can have two great cities in North Texas.