The recent headlines involving the Denton County Transportation Authority tell only part of the story: “DCTA makes administrative changes, but new bus contract to remain unchanged”; “DCTA mulls contract changes”; “More A-train schedule changes for positive train control testing.”
Six months after DCTA’s board of directors named Raymond Suarez as its new president, it’s clear the only constant for the county’s transit authority is change — but it’s doubtful you have a full sense for how much is changing.
“Everything we are doing at DCTA is changing,” says Suarez, who before becoming president was DCTA’s chief operating officer.
This past week, Suarez addressed the Denton Record-Chronicle‘s Editorial Board, along with Nicole Recker, vice president of marketing and communications, and Adrienne Hamilton, DCTA’s communications manager. The purpose of their appearance was to discuss DCTA’s path forward and the many ongoing developments to get us there.
So where do we currently stand? DCTA has secured a new three-year agreement with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1338, the union representing its drivers; has completed positive train control, the first rail system in Texas to do so; and is pursuing talks on connecting with bus routes across the region.
Yes, ridership is still down, but Suarez has faith the necessary factors are lining up for positive future results, particularly as developments grow in number and extend farther into Denton County. As he explains, particularly with rail, it takes a little while for ridership trends to point north once the infrastructure and routes are in place.
But with a strong and growing economy, a booming population and, with it, greater levels of congestion and traffic delays, Suarez believes a system can be built in which Denton County residents join those in Collin, Tarrant and Dallas counties by taking the bus, train and on-demand transportation.
One of the biggest future growth opportunities will come from DCTA’s connection with the Cotton Belt, Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s planned 26-mile rail corridor extending between the DFW International Airport and Plano, connecting the cities of Grapevine, Coppell, Dallas, Carrollton, Addison, Richardson and Plano. This will allow Denton County residents to travel easily and seamlessly between home, work, shopping and entertainment destinations throughout the region. Mobility is a regional strategy, with less competition and more cooperation, Suarez says, as DCTA works with DART out of Dallas and Trinity Metro out of Fort Worth to increase options and opportunities for Denton County commuters.
And in addition to looking outward from Denton County, there also are a number of visions for making DCTA more indispensable within the county, particularly in Denton. Among the conversations are a possible campus landing spot at Texas Woman’s University for rail commuters, along with another station adjacent to Golden Triangle Mall. And how about a possible weekend trolley service for the downtown Square?
But before you dismiss these ideas as just more pie in the sky, keep in mind that the necessity for such long-range and innovative transportation plans only grows as do the county’s population and complexity. And evidence already is available about the intertwined relationship of transportation and economic development. Just drive past DCTA’s Hebron and Old Town stations in Lewisville, along with the Highland Village/Lewisville Lake Station, and take a gander at the developments that have grown to surround these stations. The same is anticipated for the MedPark Station in Denton.
“Economic development will drive ridership,” Recker said.
While much of the expected improvements and innovations lie in the near future, the sea change already underway at DCTA is hard to miss. From relations with employees and riders to a streamlined board to a renewed regional mindset, DCTA appears to be serious about re-engaging its customers — and yes, we’re all customers — and anticipating its future demands.
We trust Suarez and his leadership team to continue to refashion DCTA into a modern and convenient transit system that meets the current and future needs of Denton County. Ridership should grow along the way.