From approximately December 2014 to the end of May 2015 I rode Dallas Area Rapid Transit (http://dart.org ) light rail to work. I had documented my initial reactions in an earlier post. Link here.
I rode the train three or four days a week. My client’s office was pretty much deserted on Monday and Friday, and there was often no one to talk to and no real point to going in. If the weather happened to be horrible, I always had the option of working from home, since most of the team I was on were based in other cities. So my experience is not the same as that of someone who needed to take the train every day no matter what.
The trains run pretty much on time, but there is a tendency for what they call, in the airline business, “irregular operations”. I ran into this a few times:
- · A woman had her face slashed at the Pearl Street station, which is my station. There is only one pair of tracks through downtown Dallas, and the light rail system was effectively interrupted for half a day while they investigated the crime. This displaced approximately 30,000 people. As far as I know, they didn’t catch the perpetrator, despite having him on video. They used buses to move people from the last available station to downtown.
- · There was an electrical problem at Pearl Street where a train somehow snarled the overhead power lines, dragging them down to the ground. This put the trains out of service for a while. But I got a nice tour of Old East Dallas on the bus.
- · During the torrential rains we had in North Texas this spring (2015), electrical problems put half the tracks out of service near downtown for a while.
Also, during the multitude of ice storms we had this winter, rail service was often interrupted. When ice forms on the power lines, the trains can get no power and everything stops. I wasn’t affected because I chickened out when it was icy and worked from home.
I learned that I wasn’t using our health club when I parked at the Bush Turnpike station. This station has a couple of major advantages – 1) it is five minutes from the house, and 2) you can park more or less under cover, since the parking is below the elevated turnpike. But it’s nowhere near the health club. So I started parking at the LBJ/Central station, which is really convenient to Texas Instruments. The health club is at TI. Using this station had one other minor advantage in that the Orange Line goes all the way up to Plano only at peak periods, otherwise terminating at LBJ/Central. So if I snuck out of work early, I could still get to where my car was parked. (We have two lines, Orange and Red. Red always goes all the way north.)
To my credit, I never blew off my exercise, if the car was parked at LBJ/Central.
The key to making the whole thing work, for me, was the DART Go-Pass app. It is a free download. You can purchase your daily or monthly ticket using the app, and show the pass to the fare inspector when required using the app. If you remember to bring up the app while you are waiting for the train or just as you board, it will even show that the ticket is active when you are in the tunnel and have no internet connection. One of the fare inspectors let me know that when I asked about what happens if they check for a ticket when there is no cell service. The app also has a panel for Where’s My Train. You select your station and it tells you what trains are coming to that station on what lines and in how many minutes. I used it sitting at my desk at work to time when to leave, when the weather was poor, or just too hot. It works very well.
The office where I worked was right next to the Pearl Street station. It was literally a stone’s throw away. It would have been a 30 second walk except Dallas police will ticket you, or at least yell at you, for jaywalking, even if there isn’t a car in sight. It could not have been more convenient.
The trip from Bush to Pearl was around 30 minutes. In the mornings, I could have driven it in 15 or 20, but in the evenings that drive could be anything from 30 to 90 minutes. The trip from LBJ/Central was less, maybe 17 minutes. I got a seat right away all but one time.
Seats are not comfortable, but adequate. I witnessed some of the same passenger behavior that I saw all the years I commuted by subway and train in New York – man-spreading, people hogging the whole seat, one way or another, people standing in and blocking the exit, people trying to force their way on before letting anyone off. But in the 21st Century, we have other ways for people to aggravate you. Talking loudly on the phone is one, and playing music on the phone at maximum volume with no earbuds or headphones is another. And there is the ever-popular, hold a 42 ounce drink using your knees and drop it on somebody when the train stops suddenly. Only got my shoes.
I witnessed one attempted crime – a guy had his bike on the train, and was standing up holding on to it. A young man tried to grab the bike and run off with it as the train stopped at the Forest Lane station. There was a scuffle but the thief was unsuccessful. I also witnessed dozens of people who had not paid for a ticket and got caught by fare inspectors. The fare inspectors are nice and just scold people, or have them buy a ticket on the spot using their phones. However, one time the fare inspection was being done by a DART police officer, with a gun and handcuffs, etc. They do not fool around. He issued a citation to the guy sitting next to me for not having a ticket. It was a $50 ride. Then the cop asked for ID, and the unticketed passenger had an out of state license. The cop asked how long he had been here, and he replied a few months. The cop explained that he could issue another citation for not having changed the driver’s license within thirty days, but he didn’t.
As I rode the train for a while, I became less and less comfortable with it. I started out watching movies on my iPad, until I realized some guy was watching me, and I wondered if what I was doing was really smart. I think it wasn’t. After that I switched to an e-reader, or just brought a book. Mornings felt safe, but I sometimes would leave a little early in the afternoons, and, just like in New York, you felt less safe if there were fewer people on the train.
My most recent DART trip was after I stopped commuting for work. My wife and I went to the Dallas Museum of Art, and took the train. On the southbound leg, there was a middle-aged white woman wearing what looked like nurse attire who was talking very loudly and very clearly on her phone, with earbuds in both ears. It was really loud, and was obvious that it was a work-related conversation. Sitting behind her was an old black man, who started yelling at her, ‘Shut the f___ up’, over and over again. I kind of agreed with him. The woman got up and moved as far away from him as she could, never stopping her conversation. Then the fare inspector came. The man had no ticket, argued with the fare inspector for a while, and finally bolted off the train at the Mockingbird Station. So, my wife got the full experience. Our trip back in the afternoon was more routine. And we had parked at LBJ/Central, and we did go to the gym.