Dallas Morning News Editorial 7/2/14 7:11 PM

North Texas is growing. Its public transit agencies have spent billions to expand service. And the hard truth? A shrinking share of workers use the bus or train.
Census data reveals 358,000 more outside-the-home workers in 55 North Texas cities from 2000 to 2012. Over that time, the percentage that drove or carpooled to work remained unchanged, about 95 percent.
What did change was the share of transit users, which fell from 2.1 percent to 1.8 percent.
As Brandon Formby, this newspaper’s transportation writer, crunches the numbers, this adds up to 435 more transit commuters over those 12 years, which doesn’t exactly put the mass in mass transit.
Instead, tens of thousands more vehicles pack North Texas roads each rush hour, with the attendant time lost in traffic and ill effects of more exhaust sent skyward. This is why this newspaper has long advocated for a seamless mass transit system as part of the solution to fewer cars on the road and healthier air.
These commuter numbers also put Dallas Area Rapid Transit, our region’s dominant agency, at a pivotal moment.
In 30 years, DART has built North America’s longest light-rail system. And unless the transit fairy sneaks into DART headquarters to stuff millions of dollars under board members’ pillows, we have what we’ll have. Staff can tinker around the edges, but don’t expect new lines or significant extensions to the existing Red, Blue, Green or Orange trains anytime soon.
Similarly, the tracks go where they go. As DART has learned over the years, this too often means not exactly where the jobs might be. The light-rail network converges in downtown Dallas, still an employment hub but far from the only one. For instance, DART has been unable to tap much of the northern suburban growth, and as far as rail goes, that won’t change.
What could change, over time, is if DART could expand its bus offerings and develop more ways to connect its existing system with unserved cities. DART’s service growth the past decade is tied almost exclusively to opening new rail lines; bus ridership is down slightly over that period.
Yet express bus tests from Mesquite and Arlington to rail lines have shown a potential new market. Other cities have expressed interest, only to back away because DART policies discouraged late joiners.
This must change, and soon. DART staff is scheduled to offer suggestions to board members this summer, who could vote in October on changes to membership requirements. The board, for years, has weighed fairness to the 13 member cities — and their long-standing sales tax investments — against the need to expand the customer base.
These are not unreasonable concerns, but, as the numbers reveal, North Texas transit agencies haven’t kept pace. Simply put, DART must adapt or die a slow death, and the latter outcome serves no one.
A Dallas Morning News analysis of census data from 55 North Texas cities reveals its three public transit agencies — Dallas Area Rapid Transit, The T in Fort Worth and the Denton County Transportation Authority — have not kept pace with population growth:
These cities added 358,000 people who work outside the home from 2000 to 2012.
Number of new transit commuters in that period: 458. The share of transit users fell over that period from 2.1 percent to 1.8 percent.
Transit’s share of commuters declined in the 20 cities that are members of one of the three transit agencies. However, that number collectively increased in the 35 nonmember cities.
Much of the transit-member decrease can be traced to Dallas, which added more than 13,000 outside-the-home workers over that period but now has 5,388 fewer transit commuters.