With Denton County Transportation Authority board members scheduled to vote on their GoZone proposal on Thursday, City Council members approved a resolution that opposes eliminating several fixed bus routes for six months while implementing on-demand service.
“This resolution was first discussed at the Mobility Committee meeting on June 16,” said Rachel Wood, deputy director of capital projects for Denton. “Then on June 29, the committee called a special meeting and approved [unanimously] the resolution. The intent of the resolution is to outline the city of Denton stance on the DCTA delivery model.”
Council members Paul Meltzer, Vicki Byrd and Alison Maguire form the Mobility Committee.
In April, DCTA approved a four-year contract — a two-year term with two one-year options — for an amount not to exceed $33.5 million with New York-based Via Transportation. Under the proposed GoZone service, Via would deploy a fleet of 30 minivans that seat six passengers each. Using a mobile app, people could book rides to and from anywhere inside mapped-out zones, and Via would use the number of vans necessary to meet demand.
The service’s first phase includes two primary zones — one covering Denton and another covering Lewisville and Highland Village — for coverage of all three DCTA member cities. In subsequent steps following the launch, DCTA would expand those zones and create new ones, including a Denia neighborhood extension for the Denton zone and a Business 121 zone for Lewisville and Highland Village.
As part of the new service, several fixed bus routes and services would be slashed as the agency downsizes its bus fleet. While the University of North Texas shuttle service would remain unchanged, only bus Routes 3 and 7 in Denton would remain for the first six months, after which the agency would examine their long-term future. Routes 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6, as well as Lewisville’s Route 21 and 22, would be discontinued two weeks after GoZone’s launch.
Two votes taken
On Tuesday, two votes were taken by Denton City Council members on the Mobility Committee resolution. The first failed after Jesse Davis offered amendments to the resolution that would reduce the six-month “test” period to 90 days and eliminating that part that guaranteed union representation for workers who drive DCTA buses and may be hired by Via.
“I expected [the resolution] to be more divisive than it was,” Davis said. “I think it has concerns that DCTA should bear in mind when they make a decision. The intention of on-demand at least, in part, eliminates fixed routes. Running these proposals at the same time would be expensive.”
He also repeated a sentiment he shared with the Denton Record-Chronicle in June, when he said that workers who drive for DCTA but are employed by DCTA contractor North Texas Mobility Corporation are not the city’s responsibility.
‘Exist to provide services’
“Union representation does not cease with some elimination of fixed routes,” he said. “There is going to be some reduction in staff if they eliminate fixed routes. But DCTA does not exist to provide jobs and, for that matter, the city of Denton … does not exist to provide jobs. We exist to provide services.”
After Mayor Gerard Hudspeth asked several questions about whether staff members’ and Mobility Committee members’ requests for data or other information were answered by DCTA, the first vote to approve the resolution failed, 5-2, but not before Meltzer gave his opinion.
‘You should be for this’
“If you’re a fan of data-based decision-making, you should be for this,” he said. “If you’re rooting for GoZone because you think it would be more convenient … you should be for this the way it is written. You should be for a longer test period.”
Brian Beck, Maguire, Deb Armintor, Byrd and Meltzer voted against the amended resolution. Davis and Hudspeth voted for it.
The second vote to approve the Mobility Committee resolution as written was approved, 5-2. But that was after some arguing about friendly amendments, procedures governing them and political theatre. Ultimately, the mayor rejected points of order by Maguire and Armintor — both of whom said they offered friendly amendments to adjust some language in the resolution to give DCTA more options — as well as Beck.
Former Denton Mayor Chris Watts chairs the DCTA board. His term expires in September. Hudspeth called the Mobility Committee’s work on the resolution “embarrassing” and apologized to city staff. He also said that some council members “can’t wait” to get rid of Watts and said the approved resolution was “a production — a show.”
DCTA projects the switch will increase service time for a small increase in cost, going from an annual 73,000 service hours at a $4.2 million budget to 99,000 service hours at a $4.3 million budget. For passengers, a permanent fare structure will not be set until later, although existing fare passes will include promotional GoZone access for the first six months — at 75 cents.
The DCTA budget is about $43 million. Ridership has declined each year since 2015, when it served 555,423 passengers, to 2019, when ridership dropped to 393,700.
Sales tax revenue from each member city — Denton, Lewisville, Corinth and Highland Village — funds the organization. In Denton, residents voted in 2004 to approve a half-cent sales tax to help create and fund DCTA. Officials with the agency estimate the on-demand program would save the agency $2.6 million a year.
The budget for DCTA’s current fiscal year projects that more than 1 million riders will use buses. Another 166,000 will use rail service.