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Friday, July 30, 2021

Majority of city council expresses concerns over proposed DCTA ‘GoZone’

Article Originally Published by Ryan Cantrell on North Texas Daily

Article Originally Published by Ryan Cantrell on North Texas Daily

Several Denton City Council members have expressed concerns over the Denton County Transport Authority’s proposed on-demand rideshare service, dubbed “GoZone,” which is projected to replace a majority of the existing fixed bus routes.

The service, powered by New York-based mass transit company Via Transportation, will consist of a 30 minivan fleet seating six people per car, with passengers scheduling rides via a mobile app. The proposal for a four-year contract with Via Transportation was officially approved by DCTA’s board of directors on April 7.

GoZone is set to officially launch in three phases: Phase I on September 7, aimed at enlarging transit zones served by DCTA in Denton and Lewisville, Phase IIA, which will expand service to Castle Hill in early 2022 and Phase IIB, set to launch in summer 2022 and aimed at extending weekday service hours.

DCTA Board Chair Chris Watts said GoZone will provide riders with a safer, more comfortable experience, and believes it will increase ridership.

“[The proposal] is to continue to fulfill the mission of DCTA, which is to move as many people through public transportation as we can and to remain innovative,” Watts said. “When we have looked at historical data, we see that ridership has trended down on fixed routes and also on the A-Train, so about a year ago we started on an initiative for what are some of the things we can do to increase ridership and make it more convenient and more efficient for the riders. The [GoZone] initiative was one of them.”

The affected bus routes include Routes 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6, as well as Route 21 and 22 in Lewisville, which will be discontinued two weeks after GoZone’s launch. Routes 3 and 7 in Denton will remain for the first six months, after which DCTA will examine their long-term future.

Official university bus routes will remain unchanged, but GoZone will be available to university students and staff for an additional fare. On June 8, Denton City Council members sat in with DCTA CEO Raymond Suarez in a virtual meeting to discuss the proposal and share opinions.

“I am very concerned about the plan to cut fixed bus routes,” councilmember Alison Maguire said. “We have a number of residents in our city who depend on those fixed routes.”

Maguire also said DCTA, Denton, Denton County and the state of Texas have all failed to employ the necessary measures to make fixed bus routes safer in previous years.

Councilmember Deb Armintor said she previously voiced opposition toward the project and listed more concerns during the meeting, including GoZone potentially restricting access for low-income individuals in Denton. Armintor also said the proposal is redundant due to the already large availability of ride-share services like Lyft and Uber and “there is no replacement for buses, especially for working-class and lower-class riders.”

“I have been clear about what my objectives are [regarding GoZone],” Armintor said. “If you hear what Denton workers and low-income people who depend on buses complaints are, [they say] there are not enough routes and accessibility of bus stops.”

Councilmember Vicki Byrd questioned Denton’s contribution in financing the project.

“Privatization has always been unnerving for me,” Byrd said. “There’s going to be people who appreciate [GoZone] and there will be people who do not want to get into a vehicle with six people because they just happen to be on a route.”

Councilmember Brian Beck said he shares “the same concerns” as his colleagues, while council member Paul Meltzer said he is “personally very open to the possibility that people would find this [service] more convenient.”

Questioning the relationship between low farebox receipts and ridership issues on fixed-route bus lines, council member Jesse Davis proposed to not charge any fare for fixed routes.

More information on GoZone can be found on DCTA’s website, dcta.net. The transit authority is also asking for public feedback on the project until June 25, which can be submitted at dctafeedback.net.

“If ridership goes up on the free buses, we know what the free issue is,” said Davis. “Why don’t we rightsize the buses themselves and why don’t we rightsize the fare for the amount of money we are paying for these buses?”

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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