The McKinney City Council voted May 17 to seek limited public transportation options for the elderly and disabled requiring transit within McKinney city limits.
“We have always said if we could figure out a way to provide some level of sustainable service based on what we can realistically afford to do, then that is what we are going to do,” McKinney Mayor Brian Loughmiller said. “It has just taken time to figure that out. But, ultimately, we are going to try to provide some kind of limited service.”
Loughmiller said the city’s plan is to first apply to become an urban transit district, which would open the door to up to $324,000 in state transit grant money.
The current McKinney UZA, or census-designated urban area with 50,000 residents or more, includes the cities of McKinney, Princeton, Prosper, Celina, Melissa and Lowry Crossing. Any decision made now by the city of McKinney to provide transit would include transit within these cities as well. By requesting to become an urban transit district, the city would only provide public transit specifically within McKinney city limits.
In addition to seeking the urban district status and the following application in state funding, City Council also voted to request the North Central Texas Council of Governments act as McKinney’s direct recipient of state and federal funding. The city’s direct recipient status is still undecided, despite NCTCOGs request to become the city’s direct recipient this spring.
Loughmiller said having NCTCOG act as the direct recipient would prevent McKinney from incurring costs to hire and train additional staff members to handle administration related to providing public transit.
Regardless of whether the city obtains the urban transit district status, state grant money, or whether NCTCOG acts as the city’s direct recipient, Loughmiller said the city will provide some type of limited, on-demand service to elderly and disabled residents of McKinney.
Loughmiller said this service will be capped with a city contribution of $100,000 a year.
The road to transit
The decision comes after months of discussion in executive session to find an appropriate solution to the city’s public transit debacle, which began last summer when their former transit provider began to unravel, Loughmiller said.
Council Member Randy Pogue said discussions revolved around how to address the transit needs of the disabled, disadvantaged, and elderly citizens within the city as well as the budget constraints faced by the city.
“While I believe public transit is not a core function of government, I do believe that it is a quality of life issue,” Pogue said. “As a council, we have discussed how to effectively achieve the balance between need, ability to provide service, administrative costs associated with providing that service, and the actual cost of transit.”
Elderly and disabled residents in McKinney have had to find other means of public transportation since November, leaving some with a singular option of local taxi services.
Pogue said during that time, city staff was researching possible solutions and transit options. Council, he said, is facing the challenge of McKinney’s fast-growing, changing environment, which affect the rules for transit, including the funding model and the Federal Transit Authority’s funding match program. These change as the city’s population grows, he said, adding that once the city reaches 200,000 residents, the UZA is also modified.
“We can make decisions today that will cause future councils to be strapped with a transit system that is non-sustainable due to the funding requirements and lack of federal monies to match,” he said. “Therefore, any decision that we make today has to account for the longer term and unintended consequences that may come along with those decisions.”
Pogue called the public transit situation “very complex,” and said the council is taking the issue seriously.
“The quality of life for the citizens of McKinney is significant to us, and we are attempting to make the decisions that we are faced with accordingly,” he said.
What about DART?
Council member Randy Pogue said DART continues to present a challenge due to the cost structure and requirement to concede the city’s voter approved, 4A/4B sales tax, which currently funds McKinney Economic Development Corporation and Community Development Corporation. Even with the concessions to DART, he said, this would only provide bus service without rail, adding that rail would not be something that would be available for quite some time, if ever.