With deep sorrow and profound grief we report the loss of our dear friend and colleague Dave Dobbs, who died suddenly and unexpectedly in his home in Austin, Texas on 12 July 2021. Dave was Executive Director of the Texas Association for Public Transportation (TAPT) and publisher of the LightRailNow.org website.
An online memorial, including Dave’s obituary, can be accessed at:
A memorial service, organized by his daughters Kyleen and Wendy, his adopted daughter Trish, and his granddaughter Tiffany, was held on 31 July 2021.
The following remarks were delivered by Dave’s close friend and professional colleague Lyndon Henry, a board member of TAPT and contributing editor for Light Rail Now.
I first met Dave in 1979 when he came to the small business I owned to have a paper edited and typed. I was also running a nonprofit, Texas Association for Public Transportation, or TAPT, out of the same office. Dave was curious, so I explained that since 1971, I had presented feasibility studies that had persuaded local officials to include rail transit in official planning.
This issue immediately engaged Dave’s interest. Thus began a friendship and professional relationship that would last for the next 42 years.
From that epiphany Dave devoted a vast amount of his time, energy, passion, and intellect to light rail and public transportation. Ultimately Dave would play a significant role in altering the direction of transportation policy and shaping part of the world we live in today.
We found we would each learn from the other. As we’d bat issues and ideas back and forth like a volleyball, they’d grow and evolve into deeper concepts, plans, and strategies.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Dave worked closely with me to achieve several key successes:
Our recommendations for a mass transit authority with a full 1% sales tax – enough to fund a light rail system – were adopted by the Austin City Council, and Capital Metro exists today fully funded largely because of what Dave and I did at that time.
We worked together in the successful campaign to create Capital Metro. We then participated in a planning process that recommended a central light rail line as the Locally Preferred Alternative for Austin, a recommendation adopted by the Capital Metro board. This put light rail firmly on Austin’s agenda.
In 1989, when I was appointed to the Capital Metro Board, Dave became Executive Director of TAPT, which has supported our educational work. In the late 1990s, Dave spearheaded an effort to run a diesel-powered railcar on the railway line owned by Capital Metro. This successful demonstration project inspired the community’s imagination. Voters approved funding for a rail transit line in 2004, and today Dave’s concept is in operation as Capital Metro’s MetroRail Red Line that has been running between downtown Austin and Leander since 2010.
I should mention that Dave was also involved in promoting Amtrak’s rail passenger service. In 2000 he proudly rode a special Amtrak train reinstating the Texas Eagle and inaugurating daily service.
It was in the early 2000s that Dave started taking both of us on trips around the country to attend various meetings and present papers at major transit conferences. Altogether, we made about three dozen trips over 19 years.
I think Dave might have missed his calling as an evangelist. He loved to proselytize, and his gospel was public transportation and the benefits of rail transit, rail passenger service, and better urban planning. Time and again I’d be waiting for Dave, only to find him spending 15 or 20 minutes lecturing to a hotel desk clerk, receptionist, busboy, or some other random person about the value of light rail or transit-oriented development.
A couple of our trips included some particularly unforgettable experiences. In 2003, after a conference, we decided to climb Atlanta’s famous Stone Mountain. Halfway up we stopped to admire the vista with some picturesque grey clouds in the distance. When we reached the summit, it was getting dark, but even worse, those picturesque grey clouds had drifted right on top of us, and it was starting to thunder and drizzle. Then lightning started to flash with terrifying explosions.
We got caught in probably the most dangerous thunderstorm either of us had ever experienced. Blinded by the darkness and torrential rain, we got separated as we tried to descend the slippery mountain, and Dave was trying to help a couple with a baby. It looked like we’d either be swept away by the deluge or barbequed by the crashing bolts of lightning. Fortunately, we survived to tell the tale.
Another time was after an event in 2004. We wanted to take photos of St. Louis’s Metrorail light rail line in the Illinois suburbs, so we rode a train to a suburban station. Some security guards on the platform gave us permission to take photos and kindly offered some tips about where to get the best views of trains.
Returning to the light rail station about half an hour later, we were met by an Illinois Sheriff’s Deputy. It turned out that the same “helpful” security guards had reported us as “suspicious”. We were detained for about 45 minutes, grilled, admonished, and uncertain of our fate. We got off with a stern warning not to take photos of light rail trains. After all, 9/11 was only three years in the past.
Fortunately, most of the time we managed to stay out of trouble. And by facilitating these trips and activities, Dave enabled us to make an impact in furthering light rail development across the country.
Dave’s crowning achievement was to devise and promote a central light rail route for Austin, running down North Lamar, Guadalupe, and South Congress, parallel to I-35. Since 2016, Dave publicized this everywhere, handing out a map and speaking to key public officials
That route grabbed the public’s imagination. It was incorporated into official plans, and last November, voters approved billions of dollars to fund it. Dave’s concept is the exact light rail route now being implemented as the Orange Line.
Capital Metro, MetroRail, Project Connect’s Orange Line — Dave Dobbs has had an amazingly momentous influence on the shape and urban environment of the Austin area, today and into the future. Let that never be forgotten. ■