Denton Mayor Chris Watts and Corinth City Council member Sam Burke took public transportation to their Denton County Transportation Authority Board of Directors meeting Thursday afternoon.
The pair accepted the Denton Record-Chronicle’s invitation to meet at the A-train station and catch the zone bus from the Hebron Station to the DCTA headquarters in Lewisville. Both are relative newcomers to the board and for Burke, it was his first time on the A-train. It wasn’t Watts’ first ride, but it was the first time for him to use the system the way a commuter would.
Like most riders, Burke and Watts were concerned about getting to their destination on time. Burke, an attorney by day, checked his watch to see how long it took for him to travel from his office in downtown Denton and finally arrive outside the DCTA offices.
“Just over an hour — that’s not bad,” Burke said.
Watts looked at his watch as the board meeting went into the late afternoon Thursday, letting out at the height of rush hour.
“Traffic will be bad,” he said.
He looked out the train window toward traffic on Interstate 35E several times during the trek back. Sometimes the train was faster, other times it wasn’t.
Watts contrasted the local experience with using public transportation in Washington, D.C., which he has visited for mayor’s conferences. In the nation’s capital, the subway and buses run more frequently and require less planning.
Both Burke and Watts needed a little help figuring out how to schedule the bus connection. DCTA recently added zone bus service in both Denton’s and Lewisville’s industrial parks. Scheduling a zone bus ride works a little like Lyft or Uber. Riders must download the Spare app and register their phone number before hailing the ride. (In Denton, it’s a different app: TransLoc.)
Part of the reason the meeting went long is because Burke, Watts and the other new board members are slowly rewriting the agency’s bylaws.
From its founding until earlier this year, DCTA had 14 board members, all of whom voted. Some of those 14 board members represented cities that weren’t paying for the system. State law changed this year to limit voting members to those cities where DCTA collects sales tax (Denton, Highland Village and Lewisville) and the county (which gave $250 million to build the train).
If another city joins DCTA and helps underwrite the system with tax funding, its representative will be able to vote. Corinth, for example, is exploring whether to form a tax-increment finance district in order to join DCTA and build a new train station there. For now, though Burke is officially one of the county’s two representatives to the board.
The current board numbers 11 members, six of whom advise the agency but cannot vote. The five voting members of the board agreed Thursday on revisions that make sure the non-voting members are included in many facets of governance.
But they could not decide whether that included full participation in future closed sessions. Watts, Burke and others were leaning towards limiting most closed sessions to voting members only — particularly those dealing with real estate purchases or pending litigation. But other closed sessions, such as the annual evaluation for the chief executive officer or the agency’s attorney, may eventually include all the members.
On Thursday, however, the entire board met behind closed doors to talk about legal issues with the bus driver’s union.
Just before DCTA decided to form its own subsidiary to run its bus operations, the agency and its former contractor, Transit Management of Denton County, negotiated a new, three-year contract with the union late last year. When DCTA’s subsidiary, North Texas Mobility Corporation, took over, officials said they would honor all the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.
DCTA bus drivers were tight-lipped about the conflict Thursday, providing some hints during the public comment.
Union steward Paula Richardson told board members that the new bus schedules don’t match the routes that drivers signed up to work. Former steward and longtime bus driver Jim Owen said he worked through 21 different schedule changes with the agency in his tenure and the latest change has been frustrating for riders and drivers alike.
“We’ve lost 12 commercial licensed drivers since the transition,” Owen said, adding that two were fired.
He said new software was not calculating route times correctly. For example, the software might assume it takes only two minutes to travel a section of street that has three stoplights on it.
“This is absolutely the worst schedule change we’ve ever had,” Owen said.