Incidents involving harassment, violence and lack of safety at DART stations and buses have increased in the last months, leading to concerns among residents who rely on public transit daily.
From January to March 2022, 428 incidents were reported, according to Dallas Area Rapid Transit data.
The data is compiled into two categories: National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) and arrests, each divided into train stations and bus stops.
From January to March 2022, 235 NIBRS occurrences and 153 arrests were reported for train stations. For buses and bus stops, 20 NIBRS occurrences and 20 arrests were reported. And in April, two people died at two DART stations. So far, suspects in the slayings haven’t been found.
In comparison, during the same months of 2021, a total 351 incidents and arrests were reported at train stations and bus stops.
DART rider Alberto Espinoza, 50, said he is concerned he might become a victim in one of those incidents — something he has witnessed during his daily train commute from Irving to the West End or St. Paul stations.
He said he has no other transportation option, with DART serving as his only means to go to his job and back for 15 years.
“Every day, it gets worse. More people are smoking, getting high on the train, or trying to start a fight,” said the Irving resident, who works at a restaurant in Deep Ellum.
Espinoza said he doesn’t use his cellphone on the train for fear of being robbed, and when he sees other people using drugs or quarreling, he opts to get off and wait for the next train.
“I’m afraid of taking my cell out — what if I get robbed? Many homeless people are always riding the train and sometimes turn aggressive. I have seen a [phone] number on the train to report this kind of thing, but I prefer to get off,” Espinoza said.
“But I can’t do that every time and risk being late to my job. Other times I have had just to ignore them.”
“Unfortunately, DART is definitely not immune to the dangers we’ve seen across the city of Dallas and the country as we’re returning from the pandemic. We encourage our ridership to report any suspicious activity,” said DART spokesman Gordon Shattles.
From January to March 2022, the West End station in downtown reported 15 incidents and 31 arrests — the most incidents and arrests of any station.
In 2021, 1,765 incidents and arrests were reported at all DART train and bus stations.
Esther Strong, 40, moved to Dallas in 2017 and said DART has been her only means of transportation, both for her job commute and weekend activities.
Last summer, she was pursued by a homeless man after getting off at the St. Paul Station in daylight hours.
“There was a guy who was going over asking people for money. And then he came to me, and I said ‘No, thank you.’ He started yelling and screaming at me, calling me derogatory names. He followed me down the street for like two blocks. No one was there to help, no cops, anything. Since that day, I am afraid when somebody comes to me,” she said.
Some DART riders blame the crime hike on the fact that more people are living on the streets of Dallas. At the end of 2021, the city launched a program to keep residents from giving money to panhandlers to cut the number of homeless people.
Despite that, according to DART riders, many homeless people shelter in train stations and even on board the trains to avoid being on the street.
Strong said she has become used to seeing people smoking, fighting and arguing at train stations.
“The people that are there sometimes are the homeless population. I think they don’t have anywhere to go. So they’ll go and just hang out at the train station, which is fine, but sometimes they’ll come over and ask for money or do drugs and that’s when all the other passengers are at risk,” Strong said.
In addition to its police force, DART has officers checking tickets and third-party security. But those have proved insufficient for riders who have been victims in some incidents.
DART has around 7,000 security cameras installed throughout its stations and trains.
It also has 142 blue phones, which are set to call DART police or 911 in an emergency.
Santos Barros, 52, who has been using DART transit for 20 years as his main transportation, said he is concerned about the lack of police in the train cars.
“The problem is, there’s never a police officer on board the trains. They’re only at the stations, sitting around in their cars with their phones. That’s no use,” Barros said.
DART has 200 police officers to patrol its more than 60 stations, about 700 buses and four train lines in the 13 cities it serves.
The agency is seeking to hire an additional 52 officers, but it is impossible to be in every train car all the time, according to Shattles.
“We have a police officer count drop, like other police departments. But we are doing our best to provide a safe experience to our riders,” Shattles said.
Barros says he has seen robberies, fights, individuals urinating at the stations, and people using drugs.
But for the first time he said he called the “See Something, Say Something” number posted on trains after he saw a homeless man using drugs on a train he was riding.
In the last week of April, Barrios was riding the Red Line train when a man in a wheelchair boarded the train before starting to smoke some type of drug in a pipe. Barros has a video of the incident.
“I couldn’t believe it. There were kids and children, the next stop was the zoo. And he said: ‘I don’t mean to offend you’. Then he starts pulling out the lighter and starts smoking. So I called the number on the train and it was the DART police”, he said. “At the next stop, there were like 10 cops waiting for him. They pulled him and dragged him out of there, and they took that pipe away and smashed it on the ground.”
But Barros said the next day he saw the same person on the train asking for money.
When asked about these types of incidents, Shattles said DART police have the authority and training to arrest and detain people.
Another rider who has been a victim of the increased violence at DART transit is Kristen Reagan, 32, who said a man fondled her breasts last summer while waiting for a bus at Blue Line Ledbetter Station and the DART police did nothing.
Reagan said she now carries a knife for personal defense.
Reagan said she saw a pair of police officers in their patrol cars and told them what had happened. But she said they did not do anything. They just said they were sorry, and the man who fondled her was still standing there when the bus she had to take departed.
“All kinds of these [incidents] had happened to me in DART, and I reported them in the app, but I don’t think it works. The police never do anything. So we stop using DART after 6 p.m.,” Reagan said.
As more people are using public transit again for various reasons, such as returning to work at the office or avoiding the gas-price hike or traffic, riders are asking for more security and effectiveness from DART for a safe commute.
“I want DART to improve. I have to ride DART just as other people need it,” Strong said. “I want to see DART improve with cleaning, on time and security. All these things are important to have better transportation in the city.”