Information resources meant to help Denton bus riders plan their trips amid traffic and road construction aren’t helping commuters arrive at their destinations on time, according to a recent field study by University of North Texas journalism students.
The field study found delayed arrivals from one minute to 10 minutes, or more, at more than half the bus stops they visited along eight Denton County Transportation Authority bus routes. Students clocked buses that arrived from one to four minutes late 30% of the time, from five to nine minutes late 18% of the time, and by 10 minutes or more 4% of the time.
“I often run the risk of being late trying to ride the bus in the morning,” said Denton resident Brittany Malvern, a commuter on Route 7. “So, I take the bus home, but I usually end up taking a Lyft in the morning.”
The field test was consistent with a drop in on-time performance this year for DCTA buses. The agency reports 79% on-time performance for buses this year, compared to 93% last year.
DCTA considers arriving within 10 minutes of the posted time as “on time.”
The agency’s annual goals for on-time performance are 90% for buses and 98% for the A-train.
DCTA officials said the A-train is meeting its on-time goals, but the bus system has been affected by road construction.
“The bus on-time performance goals have not been met this year due to ongoing lane and road closures that have increased traffic congestion resulting in delays and detours,” DCTA’s Adrienne Hamilton said in an email. “DCTA will continue to diligently work towards meeting its on-time performance goals for both bus and rail.”
Most of DCTA’s bus system runs like spokes out of Denton’s two A-train stations. Missed connections affect riders’ confidence in the system and their ability to easily connect to the A-train, the field study found.
For the field study, 18 journalism students rode different bus routes in March and April in Denton and nearby cities such as Highland Village and Lewisville, stopping at high-traffic destinations like Rayzor Ranch and MedPark Station.
Students collected information to analyze their trips using DCTA resources, including the agency’s mobile applications, text alerts, voice updates and maps. DCTA uses the mobile app to give real-time updates on bus locations and arrivals. The students found buses often did not meet the posted times during the field study.
For example, two students found the posted times on the mobile app for Route 7 from Rayzor Ranch to the Downtown Denton Transit Center were six minutes behind, causing them to miss the train to Highland Village in Lewisville.
The transit app does not provide real-time updates, said Garrett Wescott, systems integration manager for UNT’s Classroom Support Services, who helped develop the app with Swiftly two years ago.
“I think they report every five minutes or so, which, if you’re somebody who is looking for a bus within the next three minutes, obviously your information is going to be a little bit out of date,” he said.
Wescott also said road closures and construction can cause inaccuracies in the app.
Denton Deputy City Manager Mario Canizares asked riders to be patient as road construction may be the cause of some bus delays in Denton.
“There’s a lot of construction that affects the city, so we work with the DCTA and the public safety and emergency teams to adjust routes due to construction activities,” he said.
“The construction is a sign of progress,” he added.
Denton County is growing fast, with population estimates surpassing 850,000 people, according to a U.S. Census estimate from July.
While A-train ridership is down, DCTA bus ridership is up overall compared to last year. Data from October through February showed bus boardings increased overall by 16% from 2018 to 2019.
However, the number of riders dropped on some routes, including a 35% drop in ridership in Lewisville.
A decline in ridership could be due to the affordability of gas and efficiency of driving, said Kelli Gregory, a former transportation planner for the North Central Texas Council of Governments. She’s now a planner for the city of Fort Worth.
“People value their time and where they can get faster in the car because they can afford that or they prefer that,” she said. “I think you see the shift toward public transit when people need to rely on it here in Texas.”
While many Lewisville riders said the buses run largely on time, some also said they wished the bus schedules would coordinate better with the train arrivals and departures.
Seven of the eight Denton Connect bus routes make stops at the Downtown Denton Transit Center, where passengers can connect to the A-Train. Some riders have complained about the difference in the timeliness between the A-train and the buses that connect to it. The train, with an on-time rate hovering around 98% to 99%, is stricter in its arrival and departure times.
With their 79% on-time rate, buses don’t always reach their final stop — the train station — by the scheduled time.
Denton resident Faith Fermi said bus tardiness affects her ability to ride the train she wants.
“The bus drivers will make me miss the train,” Fermi said. “The train is pretty strict on its schedule, while the bus drivers are not. I’ve missed the train more than I’ve been late to class due to the buses.”
Late arrivals can take a toll on riders who rely on the buses to get to work, too, said Texas Woman’s University student Christina Shaw, a Dallas resident who works at an Amazon warehouse in Dallas.
“I work at night, so I try to leave at the earliest convenience I can,” she said. “We have a five-minute grace period and if we get there after that period, either it comes out of our unpaid time off or paid time off.”
Shaw has ridden the bus since she enrolled at TWU in 2012. She said even a small bus delay can jeopardize her entire schedule.
“I don’t like the timing of the bus,” she said. “Sometimes the bus drivers will be 10 minutes late and it causes me to miss the train, making a 30-minute delay in my schedule. Sometimes when the buses come [to DDTC] late, instead of being considerate of it and dropping us off by the train [platform], they’ll go to the actual [bus] stop where they wait, and I’ll still miss the train.”