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Listening pays off for DCTA

Shortly after the Denton County Transportation Authority added midday service to its A-train schedule, officials made a prediction.

“We think the changes will actually increase ridership all-around, even for the bus services,” said Dee Leggett, DCTA communications and planning vice president.

Such statements are routine. You wouldn’t expect a company to announce a new service without predicting success.

It’s later on, when the numbers are tallied, that officials are obliged to take a more realistic look. It’s tough to argue with results.

So, here it is about a month later — the DCTA has issued an update and guess what?

Officials reported that they’ve been enjoying positive ridership numbers for the A-train since midday rail service was launched — ridership is up more than 50 percent.

“The real tell is the first two weeks of classes. That’s what we compared — this year to last year and what that meant to ridership,” Leggett told us.

The A-train carried 760 more passengers during the first 10 days of the fall semester than DCTA served over the same stretch in 2011, officials said. While there was no midday A-train service then, DCTA did offer a bus option for midday travel.

The bus service, however, had its drawbacks. One was that commuters could get stuck in traffic jams along the route — traffic for which the A-train doesn’t have to wait.

“That lack of reliability impacted ridership,” Leggett said. “That’s why we wanted to demonstrate what our baseline comparison was last year and the impact of adding midday rail service.”

The increase in midday ridership isn’t surprising, considering that a lot of people would choose a moving train over a bus stalled in traffic, but that wasn’t the only good news.

Leggett said total ridership has gone up, as well, and is now 53 percent ahead of last year. The A-train is carrying almost 730 passengers more per day than in 2011.

DCTA president Jim Cline attributed the ridership growth to how well the peak-period service and the midday service work together.

“It gives you the opportunity to have much greater latitude with your route planning, if you’re a commuter,” Cline told us.

It also underscores the importance of listening to your customers.

The recent rail service changes were approved in late May after DCTA officials identified midday service as a priority based on input from train and bus riders in the spring.

Cline said that the midday service, coupled with the continuation of good, steady performance and a positive option for travel, should keep ridership numbers moving higher. In the meantime, officials will be looking to get feedback from the public on the recent schedule changes.

“We’re still looking for ways to improve, and we’ll continue to work on that,” Cline said.

In our view, that could be the key to the DCTA’s positive report.

It pays to listen.