By April Fultz
In a recent board meeting, DCTA directors agreed that after 16 years of trying to get people out of their cars, the experiment with scheduled bus and train service was not going to work, and that it would be cheaper and more effective to literally just buy people inexpensive used cars.
Since 2003, Denton County Transportation Authority has collected a half-cent sales tax from the cities of Lewisville, Denton and Highland Village. The money has been used to purchase and operate buses and trains to get residents in these cities to and from their homes, jobs and schools.
The promise of public transportation is threefold: providing transportation options for those who don’t or can’t drive, moving people more efficiently than with individual personal transport and helping the environment by moving more people with with less fuel.
In years past, DCTA had been encouraged by ridership growth, but that growth has turned to yearly declines in bus and train ridership in recent years.
While ridership has declined, the taxpayers have paid more per passenger mile for the service. In 2018, the average cost per passenger mile was $2.41. “Compare that with 54.5 cents per mile that the IRS allows for the use of a car, and you’ll see where we came up with the idea,” DCTA financial analyst Sun Costa said.
Even though the cost of moving passengers is more than four times what it would cost to operate an automobile for each passenger, it has been a good deal for passengers. At the farebox, passengers pay only about 36% of what it costs to operate the bus, and a little more than 5% of what it costs to operate the A-Train. Taxpayers foot the rest.
Costa pitched the cars idea to the DCTA board of directors, which unanimously approved it.
Beginning in May, DCTA will accept applications from current riders who would like to get a free car. DCTA expects to begin delivering cars in early June, before discontinuing bus and train service in July.
The authority’s budget calls for an average price of $2,000 per used car that it provides. In addition to that, the agency will provide discounted insurance and subsidized fuel at two fueling stops it will open.
“Selling train tickets is a sucker’s game,” Costa said. “If you want to make money helping people get around, own gas stations!”
For the coming year, DCTA expects to spend $25 million to obtain used cars, and an additional $3 million for subsidized fuel and insurance. With this budget, they should be able to purchase about 12,500 cars.
“We only have about 9,000 passenger rides per day, system-wide, so even in the first year, we’ll have plenty of cars,” Costa said.
In order to qualify for a car, applicants must have a valid Texas drivers license and no more than two DWI convictions in the past year, however a single marijuana conviction will disqualify applicants. Applicants must provide income information. Preference will be given to low-income and elderly applicants first. Applications are available only at the Downtown Denton Transit Center.
“I’m eager to get a free car,” said Jim Treehan, a 25-year-old senior journalist with The Lewisville Texan Journal. “As much as I spend on rent and liquor, I just don’t have enough left over for transportation,” he said.
Anyone receiving a car must agree to keep it insured and licensed, and to provide at least four free rides per year to a neighbor who may not be able to drive.
An additional 100 cars will be parked around participating cities, free for anyone to take and drive. Those cars will not have keys or be lockable. All cars granted in the program will be painted in the agency’s green and yellow color scheme, and carry a “This car proudly provided by DCTA” decal on the rear bumper.
“We feel like the gift of a car is more than just transportation,” said DCTA spokesperson Bill Schitt. “It’s giving them dignity.”
DCTA will fire 100 employees and reassign 50 others to handle the authority’s car grant program.
In addition to the cars, DCTA is considering other transportation options, including bike sharing, windowless van sharing, blimps, rocket skates and something involving tubes.
Today is April 1, 2019. The story you have just read is 99.9% April Fools’ material*. We hope you enjoyed it!
*DCTA’s cost per passenger mile in 2018 really was more than 4 times the IRS reimbursement rate.