LEWISVILLE — The Denton County Transportation Authority took another step toward bringing the front-line employees into the fold during a board of directors meeting Thursday afternoon.
In addition, the board received an update on state legislation that, if approved, will change its composition later this year. Neither of the administrative changes are expected to affect the current level of service. DCTA staff reported a 15 percent increase in bus ridership compared to this time last year.
Vice chairwoman Dianne Costa told fellow board members that there were unexpected benefits to come from the tough negotiations on making the change.
“Anytime you can put your agency in front of the [Texas] Legislature, it’s impactful,” Costa said.
State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, filed Senate Bill 1066 on Monday on behalf of DCTA. State Reps. Lynn Stucky, R-Denton, and Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, filed the companion, House Bill 2319, the same day.
The legislation would shrink the size of the DCTA board’s voting membership to five representatives, one each from the cities that subsidize the agency with a half-cent sales tax and two more from the county at large. The change met with some initial resistance by the current 14-member board, including Denton’s former representative to the board, Richard Huckaby.
Sara Bagheri, a former City Council member, is Denton’s current representative on the board.
Costa said the proposed change has given DCTA officials a chance to educate legislators about the importance of public transit, especially for fast-growing Denton County.
Some representatives assigned to the transportation committees both in the Texas House and Senate are either new to the job or otherwise unfamiliar with transit issues, Costa said.
Neither bill has yet been sent to those committees for a hearing, but Lindsey Baker, DCTA’s new director of strategic partnerships, said the bill could travel an easier path and be approved as part of the legislature’s consent calendar.
The board also approved bylaws and related documents to create a local government corporation, tentatively named the North Texas Mobility Corporation, for employing the agency’s front-line employees, including drivers and customer service workers.
DCTA recently announced it would end its long-running contract with Transit Management of Denton County, a subsidiary of First Transit, and bring the workers in-house.
The move is expected to save money and make it possible for DCTA to hire a recruiter and a service planner. A recruiter can help with the hiring and retention of front-line employees. A service planner can help the agency better meet community transportation needs within its current $45 million annual operating budget.
DCTA president Raymond Suarez told the board there was no plan to change the contract with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1338, which represents the bus drivers.
“We recognized that we needed to be more competitive,” Suarez said. “The last thing I want to do is to see that change.”
Union officials, including Local 1338’s Kenneth Day, attended the board meeting to watch the creation of the local government corporation.
In an interview after the meeting, Day said he had been reassured that there would be no changes to the agreement, so he was glad to hear that restated in the meeting.
Among those reassurances, Day said, was that the drivers would continue to retain their rights as employees, “including the right to collective bargaining.”
In other words, Day said, North Texas Mobility Corporation would become the successor in its current agreement.
“But I may ask for a letter [to that effect],” Day said.