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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

SGA hosts special session on DCTA GoZone

Article Originally Published by Ileana Garnand on North Texas Daily

Article Originally Published by Ileana Garnand on North Texas Daily

The Student Government Association senate held its first special session of the year, called by President Devon Skinner on June 23, to address the Denton County Transportation Authority’s proposed GoZone

SGA senators, students and Denton community members saw presentations from DCTA and university Transportation Services staff during the meeting.

DCTA’s new project consists of an on-demand rideshare service slated to replace a majority of the fixed bus routes in Denton. GoZone will include a fleet of 30 Chrysler Pacifica vans seating six people per car, with passengers scheduling rides via a mobile app. The proposal for a four-year contract with service provider Via Transportation was officially approved by DCTA’s board of directors on April 7.  

“DCTA, UNT and UNT [Transportation Services] are in constant communication on how to best provide transit for students, faculty and staff,” DCTA Community Relations Director Mary Worthington said.

GoZone will not affect any of the university’s campus shuttles, nor the free Lyft program offered for late-night travel on campus. Routes 3 and 7, identified by Worthington as “of particular interest to our UNT partners,” will remain for the first six months following the GoZone launch. After this period, DCTA will evaluate their long-term future. Route 7 connects commuter students and staff to the A-Train while also allowing access to the Rayzor Ranch shopping destinations.   

University IDs will not be accepted in lieu of fare to ride GoZone, unlike current policy with Denton and Lewisville Connect buses. After the scheduled Sept. 7 GoZone launch, a six-month fare promotion is planned for 75 cents per ride, with DCTA using ridership and other data to determine a regular fare amount in March 2022.

“My main concern is that students without access to [banking] services will have less access to get around Denton with GoZone,” said Ted Kwee-Bintoro, Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science senator. “[…] I really am wary about the fact that we don’t know what pricing will look like for UNT students.”

Worthington said there will be an option for riders without banking services to pay with cash on the GoZone vehicle itself. While DCTA is in talks with local nonprofits about the use of passes to distribute to their clients, Worthington was unsure if service passes would be a possibility for students in the future. Alternative options are also available to potential riders who do not own a smartphone. GoZone services can be arranged through a customer support phone number or, for those with access to a computer, a website.   

Bill Donovan, Senior Director of Transportation Services, said the student transportation fee currently included in tuition costs will not increase. However, it is unclear if the fee will be able to cover the costs of free student access to GoZone services like it did with previous DCTA buses. 

“[Transportation Services doesn’t] have all of that ironed out just yet, but […] there’s several options on the table that we’re looking at,” Donovan said. “Rest assured that we are going to do everything we can to make sure that there are no additional costs that will be passed on to the students.” 

Anthropology graduate student Kellis Ruiz expressed concerns over students and community members facing unknown transit fees with GoZone. He also said he saw Via Transportation service reviews complaining about wait times and distances riders were required to walk to access GoZone vehicles. Worthington said the average wait for GoZone service is 11 to 12 minutes and the virtual GoZone stops will be located on most street corners.

Ruiz also said a previous DCTA board meeting confirmed a 50 percent cut in bus drivers. 

“I am conflicted because […] I personally have formed relationships with the DCTA bus drivers [who] frequent [university] routes,” said Grant Johnson, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences senator. “They’re friendly, very lovable, they know their stuff and they’re very respectful to the students.”

Worthington said she could confirm 40 percent of the fixed route DCTA services will be cut. Any Denton bus driver, who is employed not by DCTA but by North Texas Mobility Corporation, can apply to positions offered by Via Transportation.

The DCTA board of directors will be presented community feedback on GoZone in July, after which they will vote on what will be the final proposed service changes. Worthington said the board could take suggestions from staff or vote on the project as-is. Once a decision is made, GoZone will enter a logistics phase with marketing and training on how to use the service.

“UNT is going to do everything possible to make [DCTA’s decision] work for every student who uses those services, from a knowledge point of view to any point of view, really,” Transportation Services Communications Specialist George Stieren said.

Featured Image: A banner and sign for the UNT SGA near their office in Union 344 on April 28, 2021. Image by John Anderson

Source: North Texas Daily

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