Nothing Rapid About DART in Ice and Snow

Categories: Get Off My Lawn
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Check me on this. Dallas Area Rapid Transit, the outfit that runs the trains, didn't know how to keep their trains running in an ice storm. The same kind of trains operate in winter weather cities all over the world. There's a way to keep them running in an ice storm. But DART didn't know how.

Later in the week when we had a snow storm, it turned out that DART also didn't know how to keep their trains running in a snow storm. Trains like these can run in snow storms. DART just didn't know how to do it.

Also last week, when we had electrical grid power failures, we learned that, unfortunately, DART didn't know how to keep the trains running during electrical grid power failures. It can be done. Other train systems keep their trains running electrical grid power failures. Not DART.

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Dallas, do we have a problem? (Guess we'll find out -- again -- come Wednesday.)

Think about it this way. What if you were DART? Every night before you went to bed, what would you worry about? Me, I'd say to myself, "Man, I hope I keep those trains and buses running tomorrow, because if I'm a train and bus company and I can't keep my trains and buses running, I'm not shit."

Even the Italians said that was the one good thing about their 1930s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. He may have been a detestable tyrant, but at least, goes the myth, he kept the trains running on time. Not DART.

They couldn't even keep the buses running. I used to ride the Woodward Avenue bus in Detroit when there was a foot of fresh snow on top of a two-inch hockey rink of re-frozen slush with all kinds of crazy traffic sliding around, passengers on the bus in wet galoshes sliding into each other's laps and a guy on the back seat who could still run a solid three-card monte hustle, and those buses came every five minutes.

These DART people get some snow and ice, and they can't even get the trains and the buses out of the barn.

I drove around town during those two really bad ice days, and I saw these poor miserable souls standing at the train stations in the biting wind, holding their ears and staring hollow-eyed like they were in in an Edvard Munch painting. I was afraid of getting stuck if I stopped, or I would have gotten out of my car and shouted at them: "THEY'RE NEVER COMING. ABANDON ALL HOPE, ALL YE WHO WAIT HERE FOR DART TRAINS. YOU ARE LOST HERE, LOST FOREVER."

As it was, I just drove by.

I thought about this all weekend. I went back over a lot of reporting I had done on DART in recent years, and, with that as background, I carried out an in-depth analysis and critique of DART, the results of which I am happy to share with you here:

What a bunch of incredible half-asses.

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20 comments
DartRider
DartRider

The problem is this - if you don't usually ride DART - you will choose to ride it during special events, i.e. ice storms, TX/OU weekend, State Fair, Cowboy games, etc. When DART fails during those special events they get 1) bad publicity and 2) loss of potential supporters. DART will never be able to manage itself because of its internal mismanagement problems. It is why Dallas will continue to be a second-rate city.

JimS
JimS

J. Erik: I fear you speak the truth. I thought the real subsidy was actually much higher than that. The only bang for the nbuck big enough to offset that subsidy would be a real change in development patterns, where rail is actually able to help move people into a Toronto-style pattern of central density, but the politcial/money culture here will do anything in its power top prevent that from happening, which is why, instead of heavy rail in the center city we have ligth rail sprawling all over the sprawl. I agree with you that t's hard to see what it's good for. And then you have a governance structure that is virtually unaccountable. Really DART is a machine for the distribution of tax money to a few contractors who have inside wiring. And then you have all these sububran mayors who think it will help their "downtowns" the way they used to think about having the world's biggest ball of string.

JT
JT

I won't judge DART on the poor handling of last weeks ice storms until I see if they have taken steps to prevent it in the future. What is done is done, and no amount of complaining will change that. The only thing left to do is learn a lesson and move on.

Courtney
Courtney

I'm honestly curious - how do you run electric trains when the power is out?

Juan Valdez
Juan Valdez

I rode the train last week during our Snow storm and the trains were running fine.

willow
willow

Aw, Jim, you're really being too hard on these guys. Some of their copywriters work their fingers to the bone day in and day out writing really funny quips on local blogs. This kind of weather only comes along once in a blue moon and is soon forgotten, but that next endless Thursday is just around the corner. And isn't that really what we're paying that itsy bit of sales tax for? Not getting to work, being rescued from work after we end up there.

J. Erik Jonsson
J. Erik Jonsson

Jim, I thoroughly appreciate your continuing coverage of the ineptitude at DART, and I think all taxpayers in the transit system should be grateful to you. However, and I know that I risk excommunication from GDPC for saying so, DART has an impossible task. Light rail simply doesn't make sense in a metropolitan area with the low density of DART's service area. I think we're currently subsidizing something north of $3.50/rider/ride. That includes capital investment repayment, but I think the projection is that the subsidy would still be $2/rider/ride without capital investment (which would posit a DART with no rail construction). We can continue to be mad as hell that DART's incompetence wastes our resources, but I contend that its very mission wastes much more.

P1Steven
P1Steven

Dont they have a plan book for crap like this?

Felix
Felix

Dart management needs to be investigated by someone, especially Rail. I believe many things are hidden from the board.

J. Erik Jonsson
J. Erik Jonsson

The math is my own from the annual report circa 2 years ago; so easily could be off.

scott
scott

Morgan Lyons or someone there said that had they known, they would've switched to backup power plans. It could be done by generators or some other auxiliary power source. They may also be able to route power through legs that would ordinarily be served by other sources/routes.

FlyAwayButterfly
FlyAwayButterfly

No, silly. You just caught the train from the previous day that had just arrived.

Hannibal_Lecter
Hannibal_Lecter

I'm afraid your math is way off -- by an order of magnitude. DART fares only cover about 15% of the operating costs and absolutely none of the capital costs.

Think of it this way: If DART were to increase their fares six-fold -- without losing a rider -- then it still wouldn't cover the costs of just running the trains and buses, and fares still wouldn't contribute one cent towards paying to buy the buses and construct the rail lines.

(At this point some obligatory mathematically-disinclined rail-geek with will start crying about all the horrible "subsidies" that automobiles get, ignoring that both the state and federal governments actually operate highways as a profit center, in that they take in billions more in fuel taxes than they spend on highways, the best example of which is that 25% of Texas gas taxes are diverted to public schools.)

J. Erik Jonsson
J. Erik Jonsson

I took the operating loss and divided it by rides. I think I'm pretty close. Your examples in this thread seem to put me in the ballpark. Are you saying that the actual subsidy is more than $30/rider/ride?

Lone Stranger
Lone Stranger

You need to count in to the government cost of subsidies to oil companies too. You should whine about the too.

Hannibal_Lecter
Hannibal_Lecter

(this is a reply to Philip, since for some reason I can't reply directly to his comment)

From DART 2011 Business Plan http://www.dart.org/debtdocume..., pages BUD-2 and BUD-3:

2011 Budgeted Passenger Revenues: $58.186M2011 Budgeted Operating Expenses: $422M

That's a farebox recovery ratio of under 13.8%.

As for what you "believe" about the gas tax, why not look up the real numbers? If you're so sure there are these massive subsidies, where are they? Where is the money coming from and where is it going? Instead of spouting the party line, where's the evidence to back up your claim?

BTW, the $1 Billion-plus that DART has gotten from the feds for rail line construction -- that came from the federal gas tax.

Philip
Philip

The subsidy per Bus Passenger is $4.21 and Light Rail subsidy is $3.46 per Dart's 2010 business plan.

And I guess I'll be the rail geek asking what is the subsidy per passenger for highways? I don't believe the gas tax has covered maintenance, much less new construction, in many many years. Even if the magical 25% that is diverted to public schools was kept in the highway trust fund, it still wouldn't pay for Texas' infrastructure. Oh well, the battles wages on. More highways!

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