Lower gasoline prices, increasing car ownership and competing technology and business services are some of the main contributors to the “perfect storm” of declining ridership many public transit agencies are facing across the country. The solution — public transit agencies must reimagine their traditional structure and integrate mobility services such as taxi service, bike sharing, public-private partnerships, and on-demand app-based services. A recent study from the Shared Use Mobility Center supports this idea with one of the key findings stating that “the more people use shared modes, the more likely they are to use public transit, own fewer cars, and spend less on transportation overall.”
The Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA) — a transit agency just north of Dallas — is expanding its focus to provide “mobility” instead of delivering “public transportation.” Operating in a suburban region, DCTA is strategically offering more flexible and responsive mobility services that meet the growing needs of its transit-dependent, choice, and occasional riders.
In the last two years, DCTA has introduced two key integrated mobility solutions that have positively impacted the agency — Collin County Transit (taxi service) and an Uber and Lyft discount program in Highland Village. Both mobility options have complimented other services offered by DCTA — A-train commuter rail, bus, Campus Shuttles, Access, demand-response, and vanpools — and has enabled DCTA to address first- and last-mile connections for its rail and bus routes and become a “broker of services” to member and contract cities for a variety of vehicle types and technologies.
Embracing, Not Competing with Uber, Lyft
The City of Highland Village — one of DCTA’s three member cities — is a low-density suburban community where traditional fixed-route solutions are not the best mobility option. With support from the city, DCTA decided to explore ridesharing options to provide more efficient transit options, and in October 2016, the agency partnered with Uber to launch a pilot program in Highland Village. DCTA provided a $2 discount on Uber rides for those traveling within the specified Highland Village Zone Monday through Friday from 5:30 a.m. to 7p.m. The program allowed riders to connect to DCTA’s A-train and Lewisville Connect Bus routes.
“Launching our Uber pilot program in Highland Village allowed us to better meet the needs of residents, maximize passenger travel convenience, increase ridership and operational efficiencies, and decrease our operational costs,” said DCTA President Jim Cline.
After the Uber pilot program ended in January 2018, DCTA awarded a long-term contract to Lyft to provide customized programs on an on-call basis to serve the mobility needs of the agency’s entire service area and contract cities. DCTA continues to offer its discount program in Highland Village with Lyft as its new ridesharing partner with similar program parameters as the previous Uber partnership.
Some of the few challenges DCTA experienced with implementation of both Uber and Lyft discount programs in Highland Village included:
• Procurement and RFP Development — Ridesharing companies are non-traditional transit partners, which made it difficult at first for DCTA to meet all potential requirements for funding.
• Data Sharing — This is a common challenge in working with Transportation Network Companies (TNC) because they are protective of their riders’ privacy while transit agencies require ridership data for agency and National Transit Database (NTD) reporting.
Despite some implementation challenges, DCTA has experienced success with both Uber and Lyft partnerships. During the Uber pilot program (October 2016 through January 2018), there were 665 total discount trips taken with an average of seven to 10 riders served per week. With the new permanent Lyft program, 109 passengers have entered the promotional code to receive the $2 discount.
Integrating Taxi Service
In early 2017, the City of McKinney — one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. — and the McKinney Urban Transit District (MUTD) were looking for a new transit partner to provide mobility service for city residents and surrounding areas including Celina, Princeton, Melissa, and Lowry Crossing. DCTA developed a strategic mobility plan, which includes a taxi voucher program to serve persons with disabilities and older adults and was chosen to launch new service in those areas.
DCTA, the City of McKinney, and MUTD launched Collin County Transit in June 2017. The subsidized taxi voucher program provides efficient transit options for participating MUTD cities. Irving Holdings, DCTA’s contractor, operates and manages the program. The taxi service operates Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Customers pay fare for the program using a pre-issued taxi debit card that they can load up to $100 (in $5 increments).
One of the biggest hurdles DCTA faces with Collin County Transit is not having direct control over the program. If there are customer service issues with the taxi voucher service, DCTA must work with its contractual vendor to resolve the issue. To overcome this challenge, DCTA forged a strong relationship with Irving Holdings to maintain an open line of communication.
Since the program launched, there have been 2,879 total taxi rides taken. With the success of Collin County Transit, the City of McKinney, and MUTD recently renewed DCTA’s contract agreement and expanded the service to include three total segments — older adults, individuals with disabilities, and a new one-year Low Income Transit Subsidy Pilot program.
Future Outlook for Integrated Mobility
Denton and Collin counties are projected to be the nation’s fastest growing economies over the next five years, according to an Oxford Economics forecast. With DCTA serving both counties, the agency is determined to continue to provide more integrated mobility options. Future integrated mobility projects DCTA anticipates implementing include:
• Expanding its Lyft discount program to Denton to serve economic opportunity areas.
• Leading the way in North Texas for a single integrated solution for information and payments across multiple mobile applications.
“It’s essential for us at DCTA to continue to integrate mobility solutions to serve the growing needs of North Texas,” Cline said. “We want to lead the way in advancing mobility alternatives.”
Adrienne Hamilton is Denton County Transportation Authority’s Communications Manager.