An All-Too-Rare Idea to Improve Transit: Put People Who Ride Transit in Charge

Photo: Radical Bender/Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Radical Bender/Wikimedia Commons

It’s hard to improve transit service if the people who oversee transit policy don’t know what makes for good service. And yet, agency boards are often dominated by political hacks with little or no transit expertise — many don’t even know what it’s like to ride the transit systems they oversee.

Dallas is trying something different. To shake things up at DART, the Dallas City Council is appointing a new slate of board members. Long-time board members are being replaced with regular riders, transit advocates, and people with real transit policy expertise.

The editorial board of the Dallas Morning News says the changes are likely to bring about real benefits for riders:

The Dallas City Council’s house-cleaning of DART representatives this week signals a wise pivot to what matters most: Ensuring that the regional transit agency lures new customers and does right by those who rely on its service, yet too often are let down.

The newcomers named on Wednesday are formidable choices, based on their credentials and interviews earlier this month. All of them are frequent Dallas Area Rapid Transit users, and each showed an understanding of the agency as well as the shortcomings that consistently bedevil Dallas residents who must depend 24-7 on the system.

The appointees’ answers reflect fresh, practical ideas for improvements, while long-time board members voiced a relatively hands-off approach to DART accountability.

A key priority for the new board members, reports Brandon Formby at the Texas Tribune, is to focus on improving bus service in the central city instead of far-flung rail expansions.

More recommended reading today: The New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition says a new law will require drivers ed courses to teach students how to drive safely around cyclists and pedestrians. And Systemic Failure offers another example of foreign railcar manufacturers struggling to adhere to America’s bizarre, outdated safety standards.

  • Brayden Santo

    In the meantime, those of us in Utah are stuck with this:

    http://fox13now.com/2017/06/29/on-utas-board-records-show-few-really-use-transit/

  • betty barcode

    Also: revoke the company cars and/or free parking spaces doled out to the brass. Give them transit passes instead. A transit agency providing free parking for employees is like dentists handing out candy.

  • murphstahoe

    A local board has a couple people who take transit… elsewhere when they are on vacation. So somehow our space constrained new commuter rail is getting a bar car because they saw a bar car on LIRR or something.

    Then we have the guy who is a quasi-retired political hack who takes it to random meetings using 2-3 connections on mediocre local transit because he has nowhere to be. As such he knows how to look at a map and figure out “if we connect these lines, people can do blah!” without realizing that the vast majority of the potential customer base has no interest in 3 connections with 20 minute layovers and 30 stops on a bus line.

  • davistrain

    I have mentioned this before: some years ago, a transit advocate in the Los Angeles area determined that of all LA Metro employees, only about 5% used “the sponsors products” to get to work or get around town. Even allowing for bus and train operators who have to be at the garage or train yard at 0-dark-30 to start the day’s service (and are paid well enough to live in the suburbs) that’s rather pathetic. And these are employees who get free transit passes as “fringe benefits”. At least LA has some train service–if a transit provider has only buses, not many people will ride the “gutterliners” or “loser cruisers” unless they have no alternative.

  • mx

    Give every board member a special fare payment card and post the usage data online (scrubbed to a reasonable degree to protect privacy). When the board is up for re-election, publish a summary of the data along with the sample ballot.

  • RGD

    Especially if the buses aren’t any good anyway, which is true in much of the US. If they were reasonably direct, had a reasonable number of stops, and priority at signalized intersections, its own lanes, and off-board fare collection methods.

  • citywide

    “re-election”, these so called boards are appointed. What do you think this is, a democracy?

  • mx

    Yeah, that’s a fair point. Some transit authority boards are elected (we like electing a lot of smaller offices here in California), but sadly not that many.

  • Edward

    Mx is probably from the San Francisco Bay Area. Many of the big transit agencies there (BART, AC Transit) have elected boards, a rarity elsewhere.

  • Alan Polacek

    Here in Denver, we just elected a board member; the candidate receiving the fewest votes? The one who doesn’t have a car and actually rides it.

    Democracy inaction.

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