People experiencing homelessness frequently rely on public transit systems and facilities as more than a mode of transportation to needed services but also as safe shelters from weather and danger. This is a challenge for many transit agencies and impacts transit employees and passengers. Dallas and the surrounding counties have the largest homeless population in Texas and they utilize the services of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) that serves 220,000 people per day in Dallas County and 12 surrounding counties. While there is much research focused on people experiencing homelessness, there are gaps in understanding how this population utilizes transit services and facilities. Further, there are gaps in knowledge about how to engage homeless populations and about how targeted intervention and approaches impact people experiencing homelessness utilizing transit services and facilities.
The UT Arlington team aims to fill these gaps with a mixed methods exploratory research design with a bottom-up approach that focuses on people experiencing homelessness rather than an agency, organization, or expert-focused approach. With counsel from a TAC of national transit experts and homeless service providers and a literature review, we will build a synthesis survey for national distribution to major service providers for individuals experiencing homelessness about their practices, approaches and interventions for providing mobility for their clients. Through consultation with TAC members, we will construct interview questions for field teams of UT Arlington students to deploy in Dallas. The interview questions will focus on the role of public transit and other transportation services and facilities in meeting the daily needs of the Dallas homeless and transitional housing population. We will assemble a graduate student team to collect data from homeless service providers and people experiencing homelessness and focus on why people experiencing homelessness do and do not use DART and catalogue experiences from a homeless population and perspective and homeless service provider perspective (as they are frequently gatekeepers for transit tokens and passes).
This mixed-methods design aims to explore the lived experiences of people experiencing homelessness who routinely use and refuse to use local transit services and facilities. Further, we aim to produce a methodological approach applicable to transit agencies interested in engaging homeless transit users and service providers to address identified concerns in equitable use. The project is consistent with NITC themes of increasing access to opportunities and developing data, models, and tools.