NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Light Rail Ridership Down, Operating Expenses Up

February 21, 2011

The opening of the $2 billion, 27-mile Green Line now makes Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) the operator of the biggest light rail system in the nation.  But to what end? asks Bill Ceverha, a former six-term member of the Texas Legislature.

The numbers below are from DART documents:

  • The fixed-route (bus and rail) ridership on DART is less than it was 10 years ago, despite population in the service area growing 17 percent since 2000.
  • In that same period, DART has collected almost $4 billion ($300 million to $400 million a year) in local sales taxes and hundreds of millions of federal tax dollars on a system that makes hardly a dent in area traffic congestion.
  • DART's staff has grown from just under 2,800 employees in 2000 to 3,900 in 2010, an increase of 39 percent.
  • For comparison, the Dallas district of the state Transportation Department -- which includes seven counties with a population of more than 4 million and oversees almost 11,000 lane miles of highways -- has fewer than 1,000 employees.
  • DART's operating expenses from 2000 to 2010 grew from $242 million to $402 million, a growth of 66 percent to operate a system with declining ridership.
  • Meanwhile, as predicted, the agency has reduced the number of bus miles to force ridership onto the light rail system, in many cases making the commute last longer for the regular rider.

Every time a rider stepped on a rail car or bus in 2010, local taxpayers were paying a $4.45 subsidy for that ride, compared with $2.94 in 2000.  The "rider" kicks in a little over $1 per boarding, says Ceverha.

Dallas needs to take a serious look at how DART spends its money and what happens from now on.  In the meantime, the city needs to recognize its responsibility for how it spends taxpayer dollars, whether local, state or federal.

Source: Bill Ceverha, "DART's Folly in Playing with Trains," Dallas Morning News, February 18, 2011.

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