That pop you heard May 24 was the sound of a bubble bursting, one full of potential for expanded night service on the A-Train, Denton County's commuter train service. The bullies holding the pin were the Denton County Transit Authority (DCTA) board, who voted 6-5 to kill Friday night service instead of adding additional trips, in the name of "fiscal responsibility."
With two major universities, an internationally recognized arts scene and festivals such as 35 Denton and Arts & Jazz Fest, it makes sense Denton would want as many opportunities as possible to get people to town. An expanded night schedule would help ensure usable public transit options for students taking night classes or those attending shows at Dan's Silverleaf or Rubber Gloves. The DCTA board thought otherwise.
"You have to think about the impact of scaling back service at this point, after only a year, on the PR aspect and sense of goodwill among the community towards DCTA," says Kevin Roden, a Denton City Council member whose district includes downtown Denton. "When you have a rail system in decent form like this one, you should do whatever possible to make it easy for people to try." And, in fact, the DCTA staff offered many possibilities for expanding Friday service to get people to try it, but the board rejected them all.
The main argument offered for killing Friday service is "fiscal responsibility," yet the main advocate leading the charge is Tom Spencer, who represents areas that do not contribute to A-Train operations. The estimated $125,000 per year saved by canceling Friday night service is just a small percentage of the A-Train's $21 million yearly budget. According to a DCTA representative, there are currently no plans for that money.
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Two years ago, when potential A-Train schedules were first released to the public, evening service was left off altogether. Lower than expected sales tax revenue and a lingering recession were blamed, but the issue was reconsidered after a public backlash. Limited Friday and Saturday night service was added to the schedule, but DCTA failed to provide enough options to find regular ridership.
"This issue is very different," Roden says. "They have the money to continue service. They have a surplus. They have more sales tax revenue from the three member cities than they anticipated at this point. ... It's not a 'fiscally responsible' argument. The money is there."
Roden urges citizens to contact DCTA and voice their concerns.
"My hope is that the board wouldn't want to be seen as lacking the vision necessary to make this train work and that there will be reconsideration."