An important organization has taken root in North Texas around the issue of mass transit. Earlier this year, Gary Stuard, co-chair of the Dallas County Green Party and Secretary of the Green Party of Texas, along with a group he founded in the area called System Change Not Climate Change (SCNCC), decided to organize opposition to drastic fare hikes proposed by Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART).
Tarrant County transit riders experienced similar fare hikes during the last year. Known as the "T", Fort Worth's version of mass transit implemented a 20% increase in fares, and even higher spikes in certain categories of riders.
Dallas transit riders still have an opportunity to speak out against the DART hikes, and this is the business of the new group, the North Texas Transit Riders (NTXTR).
Why the name, North Texas Transit Riders?
The Metroplex, anchored by three cities, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Denton, forms a triangle that has become a hub of economic activity that has been conjoined by the rapid growth in Collin, Parker, Johnson, and Wise counties, and points beyond. The increase in economic activity is creating an identity that is less and less about the individual cities and more and more about the entire region. Just look at the major highway projects that have been undertaken, and it is easy to conclude that the goal is to put more and more cars on the road, creating poor air quality and billions of dollars in expenditure for construction and ongoing maintenance costs.
Transportation has long been a regional issue, not simply a local one. The North Texas Transit Riders understand that solving the problems associated with increasing travel and economic activity requires a regional solution. Though the group is currently organized to fight the DART fare hikes, the vision of the group is regional and it will require regional participation.
Why this particular organization?
The view of its organizing members is that the various transit boards in the region do not take seriously enough the needs of transit-dependent riders, such as minimum- and low-wage workers, full-time college students, young adults who cannot afford a car and rent at the same time. Sound familiar?
It should! Wages have remained dismally low for over a decade by comparison to high-income earners. The income gap is increasing, pushing what were once middle-class families into a downward spiral that can only be defined as a class struggling to stay out of poverty.
The worst part is that those who were already in the lower economic class, low-wage working families, simply cannot pay the mounting bills of the necessities of housing, utilities, health care, and of course, transportation. Forget having a well-maintained, dependable car. To many it is no longer possible. And, we haven't even brought into the issue the cost of gasoline and mandatory insurance.
The NTXTR recognizes the transit boards have a public obligation to provide a service to working class people. Employers and businesses benefit greatly, even though unjustly in many cases, from the consumer practices of the working class. However, it is the belief of NTXTR that this most important and prominent class of people are the ones least considered when transit boards make decisions about fare hikes, and to some degree, even routing.
The long-term vision of NTXTR is to become the ears and the voice of working class people who are dependent on mass transit for their mobility, financial well-being, and education.
While the NTXTR believes that more services are almost always needed, the proposed minimum 20% hike across the board most adversely affects the ones who are most dependent. A minimum wage worker in Oak Cliff, employed as a service worker in a North Dallas restaurant pays a much higher percentage of his/her income for a transit ticket than does a mid-level manager traveling west to east across the northern suburbs. Like a flat tax, fares punish more and more regressively the lower the income bracket plummets. Raising fares should be out of the question; increasing ridership should be of prime concern. The NTXTR sees this stark problem as one that is based in classism and discrimination against the poor.
A similar problem is widely problematic for college students in Denton who work in Dallas to put themselves through school. Transit-dependent students are in binds that are not only economic problems, but also social ones. Students and other adults in their early 20s often must choose between independence and living at home with family members. To top it off, they also suffer the ridicule of modern-day casual social critics who make jokes about their kids still living at home. The reality is a shaming of young people who, if the opportunity was there, would choose independence. The cost of transportation, however, is one major factor in creating long-term dependency.
NTXTR also believes that the best way to increase revenue is to increase ridership by constantly feeling out the transit-dependent public, the low-wage workers, to determine the best routings and transit options for them. The organization hopes to become a conduit of this communication to the transit boards. The boards have no shortage of input from economic developers, it is believed, but the collective voice of dependent riders is a missing ingredient in the decision-making process.
The NTXTR also recognizes that the mid-cities are underserved by mass transit. They haven't failed to build some of the best event centers in the world such as AT&T Stadium and the soon-to-be new Globe Life Park, but providing transportation has not been among their priorities. Maybe that has something to do with who owns the parking lots. Maybe?
There is also a need for the train service, Trinity Railway Express (TRE), to run on Sundays and to have later service than they have currently. Workers who are dependent on TRE for travel between Dallas and Fort Worth for employment cannot work on Sundays unless they have alternative transportation. Many don't.
In the first few weeks of organizing the effort, the group, consisting of area members of the Green Party, the Democratic Socialists of America, and SCNCC, have gathered close to 1000 names on petitions. Virtually all of these signatures have been received from actual riders when the NTXTR members have been handing out flyers on board DART.
Additionally, members are meeting with individual DART board members and members of the Dallas City Council. They have also been speaking during the public comment period at DART board meetings. NTXTR members are calling petitioners to keep them updated, and they have recently started a website at NTXTR.ORG.
What is needed now?
NTXTR has been making the rounds throughout North Texas to get their message out, but the effort has just begun. They are asking all residents of North Texas to help them to fight the fare hike, and also to join them in building a wider network of mass transit activists and informational disciples.
To volunteer for any services related to these important efforts, go to the website and complete the form, listing your interests. Go to the Volunteer form here.
NTXTR is also on Facebook here.
You can also contact them by email here.