A DCTA access van waits for Denton Enterprise Airport Zone bus passengers on Thursday near North Texas Boulevard and West Highland Street in Denton. Ridership did not meet expectations and the Denton County Transportation Authority Board of Directors on Thursday agreed to end the service in January.

LEWISVILLE — DCTA is pulling the plug on a ride-hailing pilot program after the board of directors agreed that ridership on the Denton Enterprise Airport Zone bus failed to meet expectations.

During its regular meeting Thursday, the Denton County Transportation Authority board voted to end the service in January after learning that the bus was shuttling only about three people per day.

“There was no upward trend in ridership at all,” said Kristina Holcomb, deputy CEO for the agency.

Ridership data obtained by the Denton Record-Chronicle showed an average of about 90 rides per month. After construction began on Bonnie Brae Street and suspended a large portion of the Bus 7 route, the zone bus was also dispatched to assist riders needing to get to Denton County MHMR, staff said.

DCTA launched the service in August 2018. The service worked somewhat like other ride-hailing services, such as Uber or Lyft. Riders downloaded an app to request a ride within a limited area that included the airport and most of Westpark, Denton’s growing industrial park and warehouse district.

The zone bus mimicked an app-hailed bus that serves riders in Lewisville’s industrial park, the Lewisville Lakeway Zone bus. But unlike that zone bus, Denton’s zone bus didn’t link riders from an A-train station to their workplace. Instead, riders had to find their way to the bus transfer station at Fouts Field on the University of North Texas campus and then get the zone bus ride the rest of the way.

DCTA launched the app-hailed bus in lieu of extending a regular bus route, such as Bus 8, west of Interstate 35. DCTA recently tightened Bus 8’s route around UNT and the main transit center downtown.

DCTA staff told board members that they had budgeted $100,000 for the Denton zone bus in FY2020.

The staff also said that because the bus was a pilot program, and not part of the fixed route, they could end the service without a formal review.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires government agencies that receive federal funds like DCTA to review service changes, such as canceling buses, to ensure they are not discriminating against certain groups when they do.

Nicole Recker, vice president for marketing and administration, told board members that the staff is communicating with the riders who have become dependent on the service about their other options.

Denton Mayor Chris Watts, who serves on the board, asked to see more ridership data, in case those riders end up bringing their concerns to city leaders.

“Someone may come before City Council on this,” Watts said.

Prior to the board meeting, the North Texas Mobility Corporation met briefly to discuss other issues with bus service.

The corporation is DCTA’s new subsidiary that runs the buses, not only for Denton, Lewisville and Highland Village but also for UNT and North Central Texas College.

Paula Richardson, a longtime driver and union steward for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1338, told that board that drivers are becoming increasingly frustrated with new scheduling software.

“You have to stop the bleeding,” Richardson said, detailing the reasons several other longtime drivers left in the past few months.

Drivers say the agency is suffering its worst on-time performance ever this year, and the agency is not regularly publishing on-time performance data.

Longtime board member Connie White, who serves as a nonvoting member to the full DCTA board and a voting member for NTMC, said she had plenty of business experience with scheduling software that couldn’t translate to real life.

“It was so efficient but not possible,” White said.

Still, board members needed to see more information for on-time performance and schedule adherence, she added.

“We keep hearing that they want to do a good job and can’t,” White said. “I want to understand what’s happening.”

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

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