LEWISVILLE — DCTA’s new board members squirmed a bit during Thursday’s budget talks, including a public hearing, as they considered providing new service in Coppell and additional routes for the homeless in Denton.
Coppell has no transit service and asked the Denton County Transportation Authority for a contract to help shuttle workers to their jobs in the warehouse district beginning in October. Denton asked DCTA for help shuttling people to Our Daily Bread, a soup kitchen at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, from the night shelter at Monsignor King Outreach Center beginning in January.
The requests were like one made by Lewisville earlier this year to shuttle residents to medical appointments to neighboring Flower Mound, which DCTA approved.
New board member Randall Chrisman asked whether the agency had a way of assessing such requests against the agency’s limited resources.
“Good intentions can pave the way to trouble,” Chrisman said.
DCTA President Raymond Suarez told board members that the agency doesn’t always provide service to boost its ridership numbers.
“We have a gap in service,” Suarez said.
The added service in Denton would occur off-peak travel times, staff said. Instead of taking two buses back to the bus yard midmorning, the buses would run two short trips between the Monsignor King center and Our Daily Bread.
The agency has been working for months with consultants at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute to build a cost model that fairly assesses what it costs the agency to provide service. Suarez said the first few iterations haven’t made sense, but he hopes to present the model to the full board in the next month or so.
Denton Mayor Chris Watts, who serves on the DCTA board, said the impetus for the study was the agency’s new contract for bus service at the University of North Texas.
“Were there costs that we weren’t recovering?” Watts said. “We don’t know — and that was the primary driver.”
In addition, DCTA has several contracts that take service into Collin County and into other parts of Denton County where taxpayers aren’t contributing to the agency’s budget. The lion’s share of DCTA’s annual budget comes from sales taxes collected in Denton, Highland Village and Lewisville.
Lewisville City Council member T.J. Gilmore, who also serves on the DCTA board, said he wanted to keep a regional perspective, but he also didn’t want Denton County taxpayers subsidizing transit to communities that were directing their sales tax dollars to their own economic initiatives.
New board member Sam Burke, who also serves as a council member in Corinth, said he understood the concerns that the staff and some board members might have about the cost allocation pitting one city against another for services.
Corinth and the other Lake Cities — Hickory Creek, Lake Dallas and Shady Shores — have a long history of cost-sharing with their fire service contracts, he said. People can be skeptical of any data that is put in front of them, no matter how accurate.
“It can just be a data set to beat each other up,” Burke said, adding that it’s important that they “not only treat each other fairly, but believe we are treating each other fairly.”
In the end, the board agreed to provide service in Coppell with a contract that reimburses all direct costs plus a 25% administrative fee.
Several bus drivers and a union representative were present for the public hearing, although only one individual spoke.
Bus driver Jim Owen told new board members that he had been coming to board meetings on behalf of the union for seven years, but he was taking his union hat off to address them about financial matters.
He was concerned about a $1 million allocation to buy new, smaller buses. Nearly three-quarters of American public transit buses are large, Owen said.
“We have 12 large buses on the [DCTA] lot with new engines,” Owen said. “They’ve been parked for two years and they run fine.”
He was also skeptical that plans to eliminate three regular routes in Denton in exchange for on-demand service would better serve the city.
“I thought you were going to add on,” he said.
He asked the board to consider carefully recommendations from consultants who have not been able to design plans that boost ridership for DCTA so far.
“You all are new and asking great questions, but you’re also considering spending money to dumb down service in a large metro area,” he added.
From October 2018 through February 2019, nearly 53,000 rides were tallied on the three bus routes being considered for the service change — Denton Connect Routes 1, 2 and 3.
The board is expected to consider public comments on the budget before adopting its fiscal year 2020 spending plan at its regular meeting on Sept. 26.