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People board the Denton County Transportation Authority Route 7 bus on Oak Street near St. Andrew Presbyterian Church and Our Daily Bread. DCTA staff patched together a fare promotion to make two crosstown runs from Monsignor King Outreach Center and Our Daily Bread — which are open to the public — free through at least May.

Denton County Transportation Authority staff scrambled to make the handoff after Denton’s emergency homeless shelter opened for seven days a week earlier this month. The problem wasn’t the plan to bus clients from the Monsignor King Outreach Center to Our Daily Bread, where they get a hot meal, each morning. Those two short, crosstown shuttles came together.

But the clients didn’t expect to pay for the ride, nor did the social service agencies or city officials who put the deal together. The city of Denton subsidized the shuttles for $77,000 and the two agencies aligned their business hours to make the venture work.

To help, DCTA staff patched together a fare promotion to make the two crosstown runs — which are open to the public — free. But the staff told DCTA board members during their regular meeting Thursday that the fare promotion cannot go for longer than six months without getting cross ways with federal grant requirements.

In addition, DCTA’s longstanding policy is that everyone who rides a bus, train or shuttle must pay a fare of some kind or another.

To address the issue, the staff gave the board a couple of options. With one option, the board could revisit its discount fare rates. Currently, DCTA charges social service agencies half-price on both day and half-day passes. The agency could discount the passes even more, said Nicole Recker, vice president for marketing and administration.

She told board members that social service agencies use the passes to help clients get to doctor’s appointments, job interviews and the like.

With another option, the board could make the two crosstown runs a fare-free zone for all riders, the way DCTA has adopted fare-free zones for A-train rides between stops within Denton or within Lewisville.

Michelle Bloomer, vice president for operations, told the board that most clients ride the 9:15 a.m. bus; and only a few ride the 8:50 a.m. bus. An average of 30 people ride each day.

Mayor Chris Watts, Denton’s representative to the board, agreed with other board members that they should delay a long-term decision about the two crosstown shuttles and the fares for now.

“The data will help us make that decision,” Watts said.

The board agreed to allow the fare promotion to continue through May.

But they also agreed that they may not have a decision about the fare-free zone by then. The board is delaying some decisions until the agency completes an efficiency study, which is unlikely to get underway before May.

In other words, clients may have to pay fares again this summer and until the board revisits the issue.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.

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