My best friend and I were in Dallas for the first time ever (a weeklong vacation that would ultimately result in my permanent residence in the city), and being under 25, we decided to rely on public transit (this was before the days of Uber). When we asked the hotels we stayed at if they knew anything about DART, they acted like we were out of our minds. We didn’t listen to them…how bad could it be? Well. Our 3:00 pm stroll through West End Station was peppered with calls of “hey white ladies!” and “Hey you white girls, what are you doing here?” from men who came and stood too close to us. It was bizarrely aggressive behavior for the middle of the day, and something that could certainly have been stopped by ANYONE IN UNIFORM coming up and just saying hi to us. Neither of us were afraid, but we were definitely uncomfortable — largely because we both realized if anything were to escalate, there were no people readily identifiable as employees of the transit system or the city to come to our aid.
Flash forward to this past weekend, when I’m minding my own business on my phone. I can’t even try to tell this as a story, so here it is in script form.
Guy: Are you taking my picture?
Me: Are you…talking to me? What? No.
Guy: Do you have a boyfriend?
Guy: really? What’s his name?
Guy [reaches underneath the seat and grabs something from his friend sitting in front of him]: You play tennis, right? I got you this. [procures a dirty, used tennis ball.] You can have two boyfriends, you know.
Me: What? No, no thanks. I don’t play tennis, and I don’t think Andrew would like that.
Guy: You could. [gets off train]
While that story is just funny and bizarre and not scary, it goes to my point that every time I go on DART I’m asked on a date. Sometimes it’s weird and WTF like that, other times it’s creepy and while I’m being recorded and then while I’m being followed off the train. Those times are less humorous. They also take place earlier than 9 pm.
Despite the knee-jerk accusations of DART defenders, I’m not racist, classist, or sheltered from what public transit is like. Obviously I took Metro quite a bit when I lived in DC, and I still take Metro, MARC, and Baltimore’s Light Rail when I go back. I have even fully relied on the Detroit public bus system to get around town. I lived/gypsied all over the DC area, frequently in areas where I couldn’t even get a pizza delivered to my home, but I’d say living in Oxon Hill and using the PG side of the green line was really the highlight of my slumming it. Every place I’ve lived in Dallas has been cheaper, safer, and I can get any food brought right to my front door.
So why is it that when I take the light rail in Dallas, I long for the days of sitting on the green line, wondering if my car will still be at Branch Ave (spoiler alert: not always)? Even though DART has lower crime numbers than Metro (and we’ll get to that in a minute), the aggressive and harassing behavior of my fellow passengers is way more worrisome on DART.
I have been wondering if there is just so little intermingling between classes and races that my being a single white female simply makes people more likely to same something to me. Indeed, most of the harassing behavior I deal with on DART comes from people who feel the need to point out the color of my skin. Even when I lived in areas of PG that were 1% white, less attention was drawn to my race. I’m still trying to understand Texas racial and social norms, and I don’t know how to interpret this.
I’ve also felt, especially in the cases of going home in poorer areas of the District (specifically living in Landover once the train was passed Eastern Market, and living in Oxon Hill once the train passed the baseball stadium) and in being on the bus in Detroit, that there’s a little bit of a feeling like, “hey we all live here and we’re all on this train so let’s get along and keep to ourselves and roll our eyes at each other if someone acts a fool.” Not to say I always felt super safe on Metro or the Detroit bus, but when it was 8:00 at night and I was clearly coming from work, taking the Detroit bus down Jefferson or riding Metro through Addison Road, no one really ever said much to me other than, “Oh, do you live/work around here?” And these are locations that make the DART system’s criminal activities look like preschool.
At the end of the day, DART is super safe. Allegedly. As I am beginning to understand it, DART is responsible for hiring their own officers and, presumably, doing their own crime statistics. WMATA does the courtesy of publishing per station crimes. I can’t find that for DART. It makes me feel like something sketchy is going on here…that little chart contains very little information.
I don’t like to call for more police presence, but I do wish that there were (some? any?) Dallas PD at the stations, or that DART employees other than the train drivers were visible (existent?). There also aren’t any huge, easily visible maps at most of the stations. Want to guarantee you look like you don’t belong and become an easy target? Look like you don’t know where you’re going. Easy to do on DART! They want to spend all of this money expanding their services when they can’t even get it right where it’s already set up, and that’s a shame — because traffic sucks out here.