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 Area Rapid Transit (DART) serves Dallas, Texas, and 12 surrounding cities and moves more than 220,000 passengers per day across a 700-square-mile service area. Dallas and the surrounding counties have the largest homeless population in Texas. While much research with this population exists, gaps in understanding about how people experiencing homelessness utilize transit services and properties persists. DART is poised to launch a data and solution focused response to respectfully support people experiencing homelessness.
During the 1st quarter of fiscal year 2022 (October 1st, 2021) DART will launch a pilot program (~ 1 year) to more fully address local gaps in understanding. Modeling other transit agencies across the country, DART plans to deploy 2 teams of 3 people to collect basic demographic information (surveys) and conduct open-ended in-depth interviews. These data will inform future implementation plans. The UT Arlington team will support these efforts in several ways. We will help build interview questions for field teams based on survey results and previous literature. The UT Arlington 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. As the pilot program proceeds, we will transcribe, analyze, and iteratively feed findings back to the field teams and the DART Office of Community Connections. We will assemble a graduate student team to collect data from service providers and people experiencing homelessness to fill gaps in the approach by the DART field teams and focus on why people experiencing homelessness and other individuals experiencing extreme poverty do not use DART, to help DART think about how to serve the whole extreme poverty population more effectively.
This collaborative research design aims to find practical and economically feasible interventions to better serve the Dallas area homeless population who routinely use DART services and facilities. The project is consistent with NITC themes of increasing access to opportunities and developing data, models, and tools. Also, we aim to co-produce a methodological approach that may be replicable in other locations and a best-practice model that can be implemented nationally.