Federal data confirms Denton County’s transit agency is one of the least efficient systems nationwide, and nearly five times more wasteful than Dallas’ failing system. Even worse, the agency’s board refuses to hear public comment from taxpayers.
State lawmakers passed enabling legislation in 2001 – authored by State Sen. Jane Nelson (R–Denton) – for the Denton County Transit Authority (DCTA). The agency now provides train, bus, and van services to local residents.
DCTA’s annual operating budget is primarily funded by three cities that dedicate funds from a ½-cent sales tax, an obligation the county and all other area cities rejected in 2002. The money paid by its member cities – Lewisville, Denton, and Highland Village – is uncapped, and continues in perpetuity.
After voters approved its creation in 2002, it has never faced any real accountability, wasting more than $250 million in local sales tax revenue from its members. Those are taxpayer dollars that could have been used on local roads, public safety, city property tax relief, or other core services. And public transit exclusively for the elderly or handicapped would cost only a small fraction of the $50 million DCTA wastes annually.
Due to the way DCTA’s board is appointed, the city councils of paying member-cities have no control over how the agency spends tax dollars. That’s because paying members don’t control its board, appointing only three of the 14 board members, or just 22 percent.
As Texas Scorecard previously reported, DCTA is a fiscal train wreck, with rising costs and declining ridership. Its A-Train loses $23 per rider, a loss nearly five times worse than Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART). The taxpayer subsidizes a staggering 94 percent of the Denton train’s cost per rider, which is the worst of any train in the United States.
Denton’s rail losses are even more astounding when you consider that DART – which operates one of the least efficient urban train systems in the nation – loses roughly $4.50 per rider.
According to federal government data, DCTA’s A-Train is the fifth most costly train per rider, but has the highest taxpayer subsidy (or loss) per rider, out of 64 systems nationwide. But DCTA’s bus and van service are also inefficient and costly, with ridership systemwide the same or lower than four years ago in 2013. All this, despite Denton County’s population explosion of 9.3 percent. As evidence of fiscal mismanagement, the agency has doubled its staff from 18 to 36 employees over the same time period.
Despite these failures, millions in federal, state, and local taxpayer funds continue to flow into the agency without reform. That’s because the runaway agency gets more sales tax money regardless of how many riders it services. Since ridership is unrelated to its revenue, DCTA has no incentive to find efficiencies.
In this regard, it’s little more than a government-employment scheme.
DCTA is also failing on its public “accountability” commitment. Their website reads, “The DCTA Board and employees hold themselves accountable to their constituents and are committed to being exemplary stewards of public resources.” But the same board has refused to allow citizens to address them at public meetings. It remains unclear what the member cities, and their respective councils, know about DCTA’s failures.
We’ve previously reported on how government-run passenger trains in Texas simply don’t work. When compared to buses, they’re costly, inefficient, and unaccountable to taxpayers footing the bill.
Denton County residents seeking to hold DCTA accountable for refusing to allow public comment can contact the board on their website, or use the emails listed below. The current board members* are:
Skip Kalb (small cities): [email protected], Connie White (small cities): [email protected], Richard Huckaby (Secretary, Denton): [email protected], Diane Costa (Highland Village): [email protected], Charles Emery Chairman, Lewisville): [email protected], Tom Winterburn (Corinth): [email protected], Mark Miller (Flower Mound): [email protected], Carter Wilson (Frisco): [email protected], Allen Harris (The Colony): [email protected], George. A Campbell (Denton County): [email protected], Don Hartman (Denton County): [email protected], Dave Kovatch (Treasurer, Denton County): [email protected]
*One of 14 board seats is currently vacant, according to DCTA’s website.