Denton County Transportation Authority is looking at shifting its fares in response to an increase in regional fares from partner transit systems in Dallas and Fort Worth. The new fares could actually result in a lower cost to local riders.
Effective Aug. 1, Dallas Area Rapid Transit raised its fares by 20 percent to keep up with rising costs. This includes the regional pass tickets, which connect to DCTA and Trinity Metro trains. The cost of regional passes will increase from $10 to $12. DCTA must charge the same price to remain in partnership, meaning that regional passes bought in Denton will potentially jump from $10 to $12 as well.
Otherwise, passengers would have to buy a new ticket when transferring to the DART Green Line. DCTA president Jim Cline said retaining the convenience of one ticket was important.
“Our partners are changing the regional fares, and that’s not necessarily in the best interests, we think, of ridership for us, but there are some reasons that we would want to stay,” Cline said. “We want to stay part of the regional answer, and we think it’s a good thing to continue to be partners with Trinity Metro and DART, and it’s also a huge part of our revenue, are these regional passes, so it’s a big deal.”
Cline said this at DCTA’s most recent board meeting May 24, where he proposed ideas to curtail the declining ridership despite a price increase appearing inevitable. One of the ideas included lowering local rates to compensate.
At the meeting, he floated the idea of DCTA local tickets, or tickets to ride the A-Train specifically, could be lowered to $3. Cline said this shift individually, along with other promotions, could help increase ridership. The DART local prices after the Aug. 1 increase will be $6. The new local passes combine to cost $9, which would actually be less than what the $10 regional passes cost now. The requirement to buy two tickets would be mitigated by the GoPass application, which allows riders to purchase tickets on their phone.
However, this shift in cost — effectively lowering the cost of regional passes bought from DCTA terminals by $1 — could have a larger impact on the transit authority itself. Currently, the transportation districts don’t share profits from regional passes. If you buy a $10 regional pass at a DCTA station, which you could theoretically use to ride through the DART system in Dallas all the way to the Trinity Metro system in Downtown Fort Worth, DCTA gets every dime of that $10. Likewise, DART and Trinity Metro keep all the proceeds from passes sold at their stations.
But under the deal Cline proposed, the money would be split. While riders would pay $9 for a trip from Denton to Dallas, DCTA would only see the $3 of that that represented a local pass. So while it’s only a $1 per ticket difference to riders, it’s a $7 per ticket difference to DCTA. Cline said that if passed, staff and directors would view it as a temporary measure to test price sensitivity and increase ridership.
According to the 2017 comprehensive annual financial report, DCTA took in just $1.3 million in revenue from passenger tickets in fiscal year 2017, a fraction of their $38.4 million in operating costs. According to information presented to City Council at its April 16 meeting, revenue from passenger tickets has hovered at around $1 million to $2 million annually for the past five years, even as both revenues and expenses continued to increase.
Cline and DCTA have been working on this shift since it was known that DART would increase its fares. The transit authority held public meetings on the topic, as well as new proposed routes in Lewisville, but only three people attended the one in Lewisville. It was held in conjunction with the April 16 City Council meeting, where Cline delivered his yearly update to the council beforehand. Though it was mentioned in the DCTA’s April 2 newsletter, there was no specific press material until April 12, just two business days beforehand.
Cline and marketing and communications vice president Nicole Recker said they’ve piggybacked off of City Council meetings often, and that most of the time they see anywhere from five to 20 people attend to give input. They also said they collect user feedback on upcoming policy changes via social media and in person at the Downtown Denton Transit Center, the A-train’s northernmost and busiest station.
“In terms of Lewisville, you bet, we hoped there were more people that would be there,” Cline said. “We think the model of having them at the city council meetings is good. For any number of reasons, maybe that wasn’t an exciting topic that night on the City Council agenda, but the flip happened for us in Highland Village. We had a great turnout in Highland Village.”
The presentation at the April open house meetings can be found on the DCTA website here.
Editor’s note: While there was no specific press material before April 12, DCTA communications manager Adrienne Hamilton said that they used paid social media advertisements that date back to April 1 to spread the word about their meeting.