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Is Chris Watts Purposely Trying to Sabotage Bus Service In Denton?

alison maguire denton city council dcta board member chris watts

Former Denton Mayor and DCTA Board chair Chris Watts wrote an op-ed that ran in Saturday’s paper of the Denton Record Chronicle. In it, he points out that while Denton County Transportation Authority receives ~$14 million a year from City of Denton sales tax revenue, bus ridership has been low for a long time. He notes that the GoZone on-demand microtransit van service that he pushed for has been popular. GoZone has been popular.

Read more community-focused content here. Letters to the editor here.

GoZone-Only Model Not Viable for Denton

In fact, GoZone has been so popular it reached capacity shortly after launch and has struggled to provide service ever since. Contrary to expectations, there hasn’t been a corresponding drop in bus ridership. Bus ridership dipped only slightly when GoZone launched, indicating that most GoZone users are new transit riders.

In July 2021, the Denton City Council passed a resolution calling for, among other things, a multi-modal transit system that includes both on-demand microtransit and fixed route bus service. Our position was vindicated when DCTA ridership exceeded pre-pandemic levels after the multi-modal system was implemented in September.

dcta connect bus denton tx
DCTA Connect bus, courtesy of DCTA

We’re in a climate emergency that demands swift action and new models for how our communities function, including reduced dependence on cars. GoZone vans have a maximum capacity of 6 passengers. The transit ridership goals we must meet to meaningfully impact greenhouse gas emissions are simply not attainable with vans alone. In exchange for our sales tax dollars, DCTA has a responsibility to provide a significant portion of our population with safe and convenient alternatives to driving. DCTA hasn’t yet met that goal, but it’s been moving in the right direction since the implementation of a multi-modal system. We can’t meet ridership goals if we shift to a GoZone-only model.

Because of all this, consultants from Via (the company that operates the GoZone program) and transit professionals on the DCTA staff recommended that DCTA keep most fixed bus routes with some adjustments and alter the GoZone program to complement – rather than compete with – the bus system. The proposal adds ~$1 million to the bus-free annual budget, saves the jobs of all current DCTA bus drivers and mechanics, and was approved unanimously by the DCTA Board of Directors.

Failure in Leadership of Chris Watts, Forced Resignation of Sam Burke

Watts has a point, though, that bus ridership is low, and that’s a problem. What factors contribute to low ridership? Pre-COVID, bus ridership was low because the buses didn’t run on time, didn’t run frequently enough, and didn’t go where people wanted to go. Chris Watts was in a leadership role at DCTA until I was appointed to replace him this past October, but he made no moves to address these issues. The low-density suburban land use patterns we have in Denton – single family homes, lawns, huge parking lots, and single-use zoning – are also not conducive to building bus ridership. We have inadequate sidewalk and bike path infrastructure, making it dangerous and inconvenient for residents to walk, roll, or bike to and from transit stops. Chris Watts served as mayor of Denton from 2014 to 2020, yet he failed to address these obstacles to bus ridership.

It’s almost as if he doesn’t actually WANT to increase ridership. It’s almost as if he REALLY wants to drive the agency into the ground so it can be privatized. Once the agency no longer provides public transportation, the sales tax revenue Denton sends to DCTA can be reallocated to tax incentives. Chris Watts believes that giving tax breaks to businesses is more important than building an effective mass transit system. Replacing unionized bus drivers with underpaid gig workers is just icing on the cake for him.

In spite of the Council resolution, the success of the multimodal system, and the public outcry in support of bus service, Chris Watts persisted in his attempts to eliminate bus service entirely. As a result, the Denton City Council voted in October to remove Watts as our representative on the DCTA Board. Since he no longer has a vote on the Board, Watts convinced his friend Denton County Judge Andy Eads to pressure Denton County representative Sam Burke to resign from the DCTA Board so he can be replaced by someone who shares Watts’ commitment to taking Denton’s buses away. Sam Burke also serves on the Corinth City Council and has been instrumental in moving forward a plan to build an A-Train stop and transit-oriented development near the NCTC Corinth campus. He resigned from the DCTA Board last week, and his name and photo have already been removed from the website.

Yesterday morning, the Denton County Commissioners Court met in closed session to discuss their DCTA Board appointment. The public can view the meeting agenda, including information on how to address the Commissioners Court, here.

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Alison Maguire, Denton City Council Place 4
Alison Maguire, Denton City Council Place 4

Councilmember for Denton’s 4th District. DCTA Board Member. She/her/hers
Email: alisonfordenton@gmail.com

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