DARTing around Dallas

As a professed London Transport nerd, I do take a peculiar joy in experiencing public transportation elsewhere in the world. Thus far in my Texan adventures (across 2012 and this most recent trip) I’d yet to encounter any public transport at all – but this changed in Dallas.

So, how does the DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) compare to good old London Transport? Well…

1. Some of it is free! In London, nothing’s free – aside from the odd journey when an Oyster reader isn’t working. Dallas possesses at least two free transportation options – the delightful McKinney Trolley line, using antique trolley buses from around the world and the D-link bus which is only really notable for its bright pink colour and its free-ness. (And the fact that it links the city with the Bishop Arts neighbourhood which is well-worth visiting.)

McKinney Trolley

McKinney TrolleyMy only experience of the McKinney trolley was on Matilda – who formerly graced the streets of Melbourne.

2. The main DART network is easy enough to navigate and is good value at $2.50 for a two-hour ticket or $5 for an all-day one. Plus, you can download an app on your phone that you can use instead of a paper ticket and use to buy monthly tickets. There are no ticket barriers, but inspectors are frequent – I was checked on at least half my journeys.

DART Inspectors A flurry of DART inspectors all in one carriage. 

3. The DART is effectively a glorified trolley service, running along streets in the Downtown area of Dallas. [Liz’s irrational fear #453: that while crossing a trolley-bus dedicated street, a trolley-bus will appear as soon as she steps onto the tarmac, mowing her down.] This means that it’s very easy to see where you are; where to get off; and how to find the train – none of this wandering around underground tunnels and navigating staircases.

4. I was pleasantly surprised that the family with whom I was staying were within easy reach of a DART station – and used it. Admittedly, the pleasant 1 mile walk from their house to the station had a minimal quantity of sidewalk, but it did pass through some glorious countryside. The line took me straight into the city and took under 20 minutes. Beautiful.

DART en route

5. But, just because some people I knew used the DART, like most of my experiences of American public transport (NYC excluded) the vast majority of passengers were those who could not afford cars, and used public transit out of necessity not choice. I used it one evening and wasn’t entirely sure that I should have – in fact a rather lovely female ticket inspector spent a long time chatting to me in what appeared to be an effort to make the only white woman in the carriage feel safe. [I didn’t feel unsafe – just aware that I was conspicuous, something that in London can be unsafe.] In fact, I came across the same woman the next morning – she’s the white haired one in the above photo of the many inspectors on one train.

6. My illogical fear of crossing the DART lines was exacerbated by the fact that it was the main way of reaching the correct platform. I had no desire to become strawberry jam on the tracks of a suburban station!

DART Crossing

 6. Just because there are DART stations, doesn’t mean that they’re easy to find! None of this illuminated logo business that you find in London, Paris and New York – just the occasional sign like this:

DART SignIf the DART ever visited London, I think it would feel hard done by.

7. They need to come up with some more creative names for stations and lines. I’ll admit that naming the station after the road its on is logical, but it would be nice to know what else it’s near. For example, Mockingbird station is also the local station to Southern Methodist University (home to the George W. Bush Presidential Library – more on that one anon) – yet you’d never know it was, unless you looked it up on a map. The lines are simply colours – “the next Red Line train will arrive in 5 minutes”…

Mockingbird Station

Ultimately though, the DART really is not to be sniffed at. Public transport is rare in a state where the car is king (and the jeep is emperor), so finding a system that works is somewhat miraculous. As of this August, it also now goes out to the airport (I know, they took their time!), which is exceptionally useful. It helped me be almost as self-sufficient as I like to be in London and that means a lot on a trip that lasted two full weeks and might otherwise have driven an introvert to distraction!