Council debates city’s role in public transit

Council debates city’s role in public transitResidents waiting for the city of McKinney to reinstate public transportation will have to explore other forms of transportation for the foreseeable future.


McKinney has not had city-funded public transit since it cut ties with the financially troubled Texoma Area Paratransit System at the end of 2015. On Feb. 16, McKinney City Council voted 5-2 to turn down a temporary contract with Dallas Area Rapid Transit because of what several council members said were unanswered questions about future costs associated with the service.


“For me, putting a 90-day temporary service in place when we were told by everyone there would be a significant [service] gap after that would be like asking people to depend on us again only to have it taken away,” Council Member Tracy Rath said. “The probability is that they would lose the resource they were just depending on. To me, that’s just cruel and unusual punishment.”


Rath said in absence of a detailed, long-term plan, she is not going to support funding public transportation.


“We were asked to write a blank check with no planning and no foresight,” she said.


Rath and fellow council members questioned whether the city should be responsible for funding any public transportation after a city-hired consultant unveiled the number of riders actually using the service in relation to the city’s monthly cost.


“As far as how I feel moving forward, it is an unfortunate [situation] we are in today without having service at all,” Council Member Randy Pogue said. “However, it was not necessarily our role to provide that service except for possibly a quality-of-life element. It just didn’t make sense to head down that road at this time.”



Council debates city’s role in public transit
Public transit need


During its contract with TAPS, the city provided about 35,000 rides per year to more than 250 individuals, according to the Goodman Corp., the city-hired transit consultant. The city’s contribution to the service was more than $8,000 per month.


According to Goodman Corpo. owner Barry Goodman’s Feb. 16 presentation to council, TAPS had been providing more services than the city needed and more services than the city had been paying for.


“Make no mistake about it,” said Goodman. “The amount of service that was provided to the city of McKinney by TAPS over the last few years was a disproportionately large amount of service for a relatively small local investment.”


Several dozen concerned residents spoke about their need for public transportation in early city meetings when trouble with TAPS began to surface. City Manager Tom Muehlenbeck said he has received limited comments from the public since the TAPS contract ended.


Rath also said she has received few comments from constituents regarding public transit.


“I can say based on the facilities that I have relationships with, people have made other arrangements through family members, roommates, facility directors or staff—they have made other arrangements,” she said. “We keep hearing about this group of people who need this service, and from them, I have heard nothing. They have not contacted me.”



Funding responsibility


The city is not required by law to provide public transportation, a subject council members discussed at length at the Feb. 16 meeting.




“We were asked to write a blank check with no planning and no foresight.”


—Tracy Rath, City Council member



Although all the council members agreed there is a need for a very limited, on-demand service for elderly, disabled and low-income individuals, five of the seven council members said the city should not be responsible for providing—or paying for—the much more extensive fixed-route services TAPS had been providing.


The money earmarked for public transportation is currently collecting in the general fund, and Rath said she thinks there are other items the city could spend the money on that have greater benefit to residents.


“I take spending public money very seriously, and I think that there are needs across our city departments,” she said. “The night before in our work session we heard from the police chief, who said we needed at minimum 10-12 [additional] police officers per year plus, I believe, six civilian staffers to keep up with the lower limits of McKinney’s projected growth. That is weighing very much on our mind.”


Although council members had concerns about the costs associated with DART services, there could be other options available. The city of Frisco, for example, contracted with the Denton County Transit Authority for limited services for the elderly and disabled.


McKinney City Council members have not ruled out exploring other options in the future, but made no promises to do so.[polldaddy poll=9329652]



Funding public transportation


Collin County Judge Keith Self, also a North Central Texas Council of Governments board member, said the predicament in which Collin County cities find themselves in regarding funding public transportation is a difficult one.


Cities such as Plano have used a portion of their sales tax revenue to fund the city’s transportation initiatives. Growing cities, including McKinney and Frisco, often choose to use those sales tax dollars to fund economic development and community development, known as 4A and 4B development corporations.


“Cities either have 4A/4B [corporations], or they have transit,” Self said. “You can’t have both. No city is going to give up their 4A or 4B tax [money] when they have room to grow. This is a classic example of the grass being greener on the other side. The 4A/4B cities want some sort of transit, and the transit cities want some sort of 4A/4B money. But you can’t have it both ways, and that’s the conundrum we are in.”


Rural, unincorporated Collin County is also without a public transportation provider. The county had been waiting on the city of McKinney’s decision regarding public transportation, and Self said the county will now move forward with its discussions with potential transportation providers.


“The way I understand it is that [public transit] is not legally required [to be provided by a city or county], but frankly, the county does things that are not legally required for us to do,” he said. “We are still having discussions with DCTA, DART and others.”



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