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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

DCTA board of directors approves GoZone plan and what it means for Denton public transit riders

Article Originally Published by Ileana Garnand on North Texas Daily

Article Originally Published by Ileana Garnand on North Texas Daily

The Denton County Transportation Authority board of directors unanimously approved Phase I of GoZone, an on-demand ride-share service slated to replace some county public transportation programs.

GoZone will launch Sept. 7 and service the densely populated portions of Denton, Lewisville and all of Highland Village. The service, powered by New York-based company Via Transportation, will be available every day of the year. GoZone’s fleet is made up of 30 Chrysler Pacificas, which seat six passengers and are wheelchair accessible.

“We’re doing everything we can to make [GoZone] a success,” DCTA Board Chair Chris Watts said.

In the July 22 board of directors meeting, low rates of ridership on current public transportation options were cited as the reason towards the move to an on-demand model. Watts said many fixed route buses carry 10 or less passengers per hour. 

The board unanimously approved a motion to remove current DCTA on-demand services. The Lewisville Lakeway On-Demand Zone, Downtown Denton Transit Center Evening On-Demand Zone, Highland Village Lyft Program and Lewisville to Flower Mound Lyft Program will all end on Sept. 6. The North Texas Xpress, which connects Denton and downtown Fort Worth, will run twice a day.

“I think the question is if we keep concurrent [bus] service running,” DCTA Board Secretary Sam Burke said. 

Following GoZone’s launch, the Denton and Lewisville Connect routes will run until Dec. 6. Unless the board extends this overlap period or takes other action, Denton Routes 1, 2, 4 and 6 will be removed. Lewisville Routes 21 and 22 will also be discontinued. None of the 12 university routes will be affected by GoZone’s approval. 

The ultimate fates of Denton Routes 3 and 7 are still unclear, as the pair will run for six months following the launch of Gozone. These routes were previously identified as “of particular interest to our UNT partners” by DCTA Community Relations Director Mary Worthington. 

Route 7 exceeds a rate of 10 boardings per hour and connects riders to the DDTC, the university and Rayzor Ranch. Watts said the route has a student ridership rate fluctuating from 15 to 30 percent. Route 3 comes close to 10 boardings per hour and provides access to a majority of the primary social service agencies in Denton, as well as many student apartments.  

“For all the comments out there that we are leaving people out with [GoZone], we are currently leaving people out […] on a bus system that we’re trying to get [to] move more people,” Watts said. 

While the regular GoZone fare is still undecided, a promotional rate for the first six months of the program was set at the meeting. These rates include a single ride at $0.75, a day pass at $3, a weeklong pass at $15 and a monthlong pass at $48. On June 23, Worthington said university IDs will not be accepted in lieu of fare for GoZone, unlike the current policy with buses inside Denton city limits.  

DCTA marketing materials focused on GoZone riders booking trips through a smartphone app but passengers can also schedule rides by using the DCTA web portal, calling a DCTA customer agent or visiting the DDTC. Riders can pay fares with cash, credit or debit cards.

During the period of public input collection, run from April 19 and ending June 25, DCTA received 1,053 open form comments. A report to the board stated GoZone received varying feedback from the public, with responses counted as 11 percent positive, 54 percent neutral, 30 percent negative and 5 percent mixed. Both the Denton City Council and the Student Government Association expressed concerns regarding the program. 

In the board meeting’s period of public comment, 20 residents of the Dallas-Fort Worth area spoke or had previously-sent-in statements read aloud. Representatives from SGA, UNT College Democrats, the local Teamsters Union and No Bus Cuts Denton spoke at the meeting. Every citizen expressed opposition against the GoZone proposal, with common concerns including increased pollution, inaccessibility for homeless and elderly residents and a loss of drivers’ current pay and benefits. 

“I’ve lived in Denton for 20 years and for the first 10, I didn’t own a car,” resident Kim Vail, who relied on biking and the bus system, said. “The fact that DCTA does not realize that a large number of users do not use smartphones demonstrates they are out of touch with who they serve.”

A Teamsters member in attendance called cutting union jobs and replacing them with gig economy positions “a slap in the face to essential workers.” Recent university graduate Brett Davis said Denton County receives an ozone grade of ‘F’ from the American Lung Association and urged the board to cut emissions, not buses.

“Buses running empty have not at all been my experience [with DCTA],” university lecturer Angela Harris, who commutes on the bus daily, said. “Frankly, this decision does not make sense from a fast growing community with not only one but two universities. As a taxpayer, I don’t want to see my hard-earned salary go away from the community and to a billion-dollar company on the East Coast.”

Featured Image: A sign for the Bernard bus stop is placed across from the University Union building at the University of North Texas on June 5, 2021. Image by Carlisha Wilson

Source: North Texas Daily

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