Report: Texas Jobs Near Mass Transit, Commuters Aren't

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Dart RED Line, Dallas TX
Dart RED Line, Dallas TX

*Correction appended

Most jobs in Texas cities are near some sort of public transit, but most metropolitan workers aren’t, according to a new report by the Brookings Institute.

In Texas’ six largest metropolitan areas, 66.1 percent of jobs are accessible by public transit. But only 23 percent of workers can reach their jobs in 90 minutes or less using public transit, according to the report released Wednesday by the public policy think tank in Washington, D.C.

Texas’ numbers are below the national average in the report, titled “Where the Jobs Are: Employer Access to Labor by Transit." Nationally, 75.5 percent of jobs in the 100 biggest metropolitan areas are accessible by public transit, but only 27.3 percent of metropolitan workers can reach those jobs in 90 minutes or less if they take public transit.

The report's author, Adie Tomer, said it is not that transit authorities are failing their users, but that the distances between jobs and the the people who work at them are growing.

This is perhaps most evident in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. According to the report, the region ranks among the lowest in both the share of jobs reachable by public transit and the number of people who can reach those jobs in a reasonable amount of time. While that may look bad, it’s not for lack of trying.

“The city of Dallas does an incredible job with their public transportation,” said Tomer, who noted that the city has one of the country’s largest light-rail systems and covers 13 different cities.

The rankings for the region, however, are low because of the size and sprawl of the entire DFW metropolitan area. “The problem is that Dallas city isn’t the the only part of the metroplex,” said Tomer.

The transit system in Fort Worth is more limited than DART and Arlington is entirely without a municipal transportation agency. As sprawl continues to spread businesses and commuters out away from city centers, transit systems are less able to serve commuters, according to the report.

“While the DART service area has over 2 million residents, we found that as people move around, they have relocated to places outside our service area,” said Todd Plesko, DART's vice president of planning and development. Plesko said that because some municipalities in the region invest their tax revenue in priorities other than transportation, they are limited from working with DART to expand coverage.

There are some changes in the works, though, Plesko said, including a new express bus service that began in April and connects Mesquite commuters to a DART station. 

Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington ranked 81st among the top 100 cities in percentage of jobs near mass transit. The McAllen and Houston regions ranked lower, at 83 and 82 respectively. Austin ranked 78th. San Antonio was 44th and El Paso ranked 6th in the country in percentage of jobs near mass transit.

In percentage of commutes that are less than 90 minutes, McAllen ranked 96th, Dallas 86th and Houston 56th. Austin, San Antonio and El Paso all were in the top 30.

San Antonio’s relatively good rankings, compared to Texas’ other cities, were news to transit officials there.

“I thought our numbers would come back middle of the pack or worse,” said Keith Parker, president of San Antonio’s VIA transit system.

Parker attributed San Antonio’s success to its traditional hub-and-spoke system, which routes passengers to a central terminal downtown, and to cost-saving measures such as maintaining a single garage, that allow the city transit system to serve more people.

But Parker said more work needs to be done to encourage people to live and work in urban areas, a sentiment that was echoed by officials in El Paso and in Austin.

*An earlier version of this story said that an express bus service from Mesquite to a DART station was scheduled to start in December. It began in April.

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