What is the maximum time a commuter should expect to wait before the next train?
LEWISVILLE — Stephanie MacDonald cherishes the isolation she finds on the Denton County Transportation Authority's A-train.
"I don’t really like to talk to people," the physical therapy student admits.
That is rarely a problem on the A-train. One recent afternoon, MacDonald was one of only two people who boarded the commuter train at a Lewisville station.
"In the afternoon, I pretty much get it to myself," said the 26-year-old. "I don’t mind that, because I don't have to sit by anybody."
Her pleasure, however, is Denton County’s pain. Since launching passenger rail service between Denton and Carrollton last June, the DCTA admits that not as many people are riding as had been hoped.
"We’re pleased with the progress to date, but we haven't made enough progress," said the agency's president, Jim Cline.
On average, 1,700 people are riding DCTA's trains every day. Directors hoped that number would be closer to 2,000 people, and they would like to see it grow to 5,000 riders a day within the next few years.
"We're trying different things to increase ridership," Cline said.
The problem is especially concerning on Friday nights, when the trains — designed to hold 250 people — often have fewer than 10 passengers on board.
"It's not working, certainly as well as we'd like it to," Cline said. "One thing we're pretty clear on is something has to change Friday night."
A one-way trip on the 21-mile rail line costs the agency $2,000. Sales tax revenue collected from local cities helps fund the system.
Board member Tom Spencer says DCTA is spending way too much carrying a crowd that could often fit into an SUV.
"I just don't think that's a good use of money," Spencer said.
He's been pushing for months to eliminate Friday night service. "I think we need to serve a population that builds our ridership," he said.
The agency hopes tweaking the schedules may convince more people to ride. Currently, the trains only run during the morning and afternoon rush hour.
At midday, the A-trains sit idle and buses ferry passengers between stations — a major irritant to frequent rider Sharon Johnson.
"They need to run all day... all day," she said while waiting for a bus at a train station. "You have to wait longer than you should wait."
DCTA directors are considering adding midday trains and extending service even later on Friday nights to better accommodate late-night crowds. But the number of trips won’t necessarily jump by much, meaning the trains could run later into the evening but possibly not as frequently.
"Provide more rail service during the peak periods... that’s what I would prefer we do," Spencer said.
Planners are trying to figure out which proposed schedule will get more people on the train and have planned several public meetings this week to discuss the issue.
6:30 p.m. Monday, April 30
Downtown Denton Transit Center
604 E. Hickory, Denton
6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 1
Highland Village Council Chambers
1000 Highland Village Rd., Highland Village
6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 3
Lewisville Council Chambers
151 W. Church St., Lewisville