Addison officials are frustrated that, despite residents paying over $238 million into Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) since 1983, they have yet to receive a train station. But failing to provide rail service to all fifteen of its member-cities may be the least of DART’s problems—they’re also facing a looming financial collapse.
The public transit agency’s financial crisis has been accelerated by its own push to expand passenger rail routes, according to their 2013 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. Since 2009, DART began to rapidly expand its rail service, doubling its total number of rail miles. While rail miles expanded, the total number of bus stops slightly declined.
Upfront financing to build new lines was provided by President Obama’s pork-filled “Stimulus” package—funds that eventually ran out, resulting in enormous operating losses for DART that are now threatening their viability. Over $360 million was spent to build a single 4.5-mile section, or over $80 million per mile. This excludes its ongoing operating expense to be paid for with state and local tax dollars.
Before government subsidies, DART suffered a staggering operating loss of over $617 million in 2013 alone. Only 9% of DART’s operating revenue comes from user fees—it’s essentially “free”—the rest is taxpayer-funded. Even more astounding, after all government subsidizes were included in 2013, DART still managed to lose $137 million. Only the government could defend such a colossal failure, let alone push to expand it.
The problem is simple—government-run passenger rail is costly and inefficient. DART’s operating costs are financed primarily with sales tax revenue from its fifteen member-cities, including Addison, Irving, and Dallas. But despite each city contributing a full cent of its sales tax revenue, not all receive rail service. In true socialist fashion, their financing scheme actually requires that more cities pay for services, than receive. In other words, it’s a rip-off.
It’s obvious that extending service to all existing members such as Addison would require more money, and more money would require more member-cities to enter DART. To date, McKinney and Corinth have refused to do so over concerns they’d suffer the same fate as Addison—pay into a system without any benefits for years to come, if any at all.
Addison taxpayers aren’t the only North Texans to be bamboozled. The City of Irving also waited over twenty years (and paid nearly $1 billion) before it received its own station. If Addison or Irving left DART, their taxpayers would still have to repay “their portion” of DART’s $8 billion debt. Astonishingly, doing so would likely be more prudent for their residents.
Irving now pays a staggering $50,000,000 per year to DART. To put that into perspective, their subsidy is over half the amount it collects in property tax revenue. Hypothetically, if Irving were to put all of its sales tax revenue into its General Fund, as opposed to DART, officials could cut local property taxes in half.
As is the case with all fifteen cities, Irving’s contributions since 1983 haven’t been capped. As sales tax collections from local businesses grow in each city, more money is dumped into DART’s bureaucratic black hole.
It’s also unclear how much of DART’s $1 billion annual budget is spent on rail service, since their financial reports don’t separate bus and rail expenses. One thing is clear—the expansion of rail that regional bureaucrats relentlessly brag about is literally killing the agency and draining taxpayers. If Dallas County residents want to preserve urban public transportation, they should demand that local officials stop further rail expansion before it kills DART altogether. It may be too late.