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Bus route cuts will lead to more GoZone despite safety concerns

Bus route cuts will lead to more GoZone despite safety concerns

Bus route cuts will lead to more GoZone despite safety concerns
November 17
10:31 2022

Denton County Transportation Authority will follow through with proposed bus route cuts announced in the summer, despite continued debate on GoZone’s effectiveness.

The DCTA board decided in late July to cut bus Routes 2, 4 and 5. The board also agreed to increase the base rate for GoZone fares from 75 cents to $1.50, as well as a 50-cent surcharge for every mile over four. These decisions will be put in place starting on Jan. 1, 2023.

Furthermore, the 2023 DCTA proposed budget allocates $10.2 million for GoZone and less than $2 million for the DCTA Connect Routes.

However, concerns have been raised on the viability of GoZone and its ability to support the transit needs of Denton citizens. The main voice of concern has been former Denton Councilwoman Alison Maguire, the Denton representative on the DCTA Board and the sole board member who voted against the proposed bus route cuts in the 4-1 decision. 

“I think that Denton is growing really, really fast and we cannot maintain the pace of growth while continuing to build infrastructure in such a way that every resident of the city is more or less required to drive an individual vehicle most places that they go,” said the District 4 Representative. “I think that it’s a necessity that local leaders continue to try to facilitate alternatives to driving.”

Denton voters in District 4 recently recalled Maguire during the Nov. 8 election, despite an ongoing lawsuit she has that argues “only the constituents who elected her to a two-year term could recall her,” according to the Denton Record-Chronicle.

The implementation of GoZone in Denton began in early 2021 when DCTA proposed a pilot program and has been under scrutiny ever since. Former council member Deb Armintor criticized the proposal as replacing a public transit system with a “private shuttle taxi service.” Armintor and Maguire voiced their concerns throughout 2021, which led to a delay in the removal of bus routes until after the first six months of GoZone’s implementation. 

Around six months later, the proposal to cut bus Routes 2, 4 and 5 was presented to the DCTA board. 

“Cutting those routes, specifically I believe it’s [Route] 5 that has half a passenger per hour, it’s kind of whatever, on 5 at least,” said Kristine Bray, a member of Denton’s Traffic Safety Commission. “But the problem is that they need to be running buses — they need to be running buses that work.”

Bray was appointed to the commission by former council member Armintor in September last year. Bray has been outspoken about their support for local transit, especially through their Twitter page, Denton Transit Posting.

Denton’s bus routes are based on outdated models, Bray said. The system is currently difficult to understand for any potential users, and long wait times make the transit system ineffective.

“There’s no unified bus route map for the DCTA at the moment — I had to make one myself to figure out what the DCTA network looked like,” Bray said. “They don’t think of the buses as a network. They think of them as a route and then a different route and then a different route.”

Maguire said the solution is not to look at individual routes and eliminate the underperforming ones.

“I think that a better way of approaching the question of bus routes isn’t which routes to keep and which routes to cut, but how to design a comprehensive, holistic system that functions well,” Maguire said. “My position is that ultimately what DCTA needs is a full system redesign.”

For many in Denton County, the redesign is GoZone replacing the public transit system. Lewisville Mayor TJ Gilmore was an early proponent of cutting bus routes in favor of GoZone. Although the DCTA board decided to keep most of the routes in Denton, the board removed the two Lewisville bus routes in December.

“In my mind, that is an equitable solution for the differences in the two cities,” Gilmore said to Community Impact in December. “We don’t have to supply equal services but equitable services.”

GoZone’s first year in Denton has not been without its issues. Wait times and seat unavailability were common concerns for many Denton residents. However, the primary concern has been the safety of the service.

Denton residents have been vocal about the safety issues with GoZone, going so far as to create a Facebook Group named “GoZone drivers are going to get someone killed,” which has amassed over 600 members. Computer science sophomore Reid Spreiter, a frequent user of the DCTA University Routes, refuses to use GoZone.

“Last semester, one student got hit by a GoZone driver, and I almost got hit by a GoZone driver this semester,” Spreiter said. “When I almost got hit, the driver was on their phone taking a turn during one of the busiest crosswalks on campus.”

A former GoZone driver advocated for proper training and possible mentor shadowing through social media in hopes of fixing these safety issues, which led to Via “disaffiliating” her from the service back in May

Maguire said she advocated for “more significant training for drivers” and for “supervision and evaluation of drivers.” This led to the implementation of safety videos, but no other “concession” was made.

Another way to fix the safety issues is through a better reporting system. Currently, the key performance indicators that the DCTA board looks at are wait times, unavailable seats and Federal Transportation Administration-qualifying incidents. FTA-qualifying incidents are accidents where at least one vehicle is disabled or emergency services were involved.

“There have been a lot more minor incidents that did not qualify as FTA incidents, such as fender benders,” Maguire said ”And there have been many incidents of what I would call unskilled driving. We don’t have the KPI for those kinds of things, which I object to.”

Even though there are many complaints about its safety, GoZone has hit its KPIs for FTA incidents, Maguire said.

Bray said that GoZone has a role in Denton public transit. The outside suburban regions of Denton work better with microtransit than with bus routes. The issue arises from GoZone’s usage in the core of Denton.

“One of the things that was discussed at the previous DCTA board meeting was that approximately 30-40 percent of trips on GoZone are trips that are exactly along existing bus routes,” Bray said.

Maguire continues to push for GoZone to be removed in the areas of high bus usage.

“In that T-shaped core where we are getting the highest bus ridership and the highest GoZone ridership, we shouldn’t be offering GoZone,” Maguire said. “If ridership is that high, then folks need to be riding the bus. They don’t need to be getting individual small vehicles.”

DCTA Board meetings occur on the fourth Thursday of every month in the Board Room of the DCTA Administrative Office and are open to the public. 

Featured Image: A bus waits to depart for Discovery Park on Nov. 15, 2022. Photo by Matt Iaia

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Ismael Belkoura

Ismael Belkoura

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