By Angie Bado, TSB Publisher
Beginning July 1, McKinney residents can expect to see the blue, green and white public transit buses bearing the Texoma Area Paratransit System, better known as TAPS Public Transit (TAPS), logo around town. In recent weeks, the Collin County Commissioners Court and the McKinney City Council voted to designate TAPS as the rural and urban transportation provider for rural Collin County and the City of McKinney.
TAPS, based in Grayson County, offers on-demand call-up, door-to-door service from any origin to any destination in the service area, and will offer park and ride transportation from McKinney to the Parker Road DART Station.
But the designation of TAPS, combined with an increased need for public transportation in a region which continues to experience an ever-expanding population, may present a set of challenges for TAPS, as well as for city and county officials.
County Commissioner Chris Hill (Precinct 3), who was a driving force behind the selection of TAPS, said that TAPS will offer a solution for citizens in the rural county and the City of McKinney to “get where they need to go.”
Hill said, “Improving our service (transportation) is our goal and we want to provide excellent services to those who don’t have it. I want to launch a park and ride program from day one (July 1).”
But Hill also recognizes that there are some inherent problems with the park and ride piece of the transportation model.
Last year, as TAPS began transporting commuters from Sherman via buses to Plano’s Parker Road DART station, problems began to arise for DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) as it experienced increased ridership. More riders means more trains are needed to transport passengers to their destinations. More trains translate into increased cost for DART. Because DART riders pay only of 15 percent of the actual cost to ride, DART must fund much of its operations costs through taxes collected from its member cities.
Points north of Plano, including McKinney, are not member cities, which creates an increased financial burden on DART as citizens are bused to the station to begin commutes elsewhere in the metropolitan area. Hill said he recognizes the strain that increasing park and ride service from McKinney and other parts of rural Collin County will place on DART.
“We know people are trying to get inside the metroplex, so the choice is, we can work with DART and collaborate on solutions, or we can drive buses into Dallas. I think there are ways we can collaborate with DART,” Hill said.
Hill met with DART executives last week to begin conversation about the issues that DART feels are their two major concerns – access and impact. Hill said that as an increased number of buses make the run from McKinney to access Parker Station, DART will be forced to find ways to make up the shortfall in revenue that will be created by a need for more trains to transport riders. He said that clearly, citizens in DART members cities should not have to pay for that shortfall.
Hill said, “If we are going to use the service, we should pay for it. We should pay for our fair share.”
Hill further explained that part of the complexity of the situation is that no one seems to have a sense of how many new passengers from points north of Plano will impact the DART system. He said that DART and DCTA (Denton County Transportation Authority) have an agreement to wait a year to gauge how transporting passengers from the Denton area impacts DART and Hill said he feels that that same process should take place between McKinney and DART as the park and ride service begins July 1.
“My goal is to work together. They (DART) have issues that deserve to be heard and addressed. The next year will give us an opportunity to learn to work together,” Hill said, clarifying that the tone of his meeting with DART representatives was collaborative.
TAPS will also be faced with some internal challenges as the company begins serving residents in a much larger area.
Brad Underwood, TAPS CEO and Executive Director, said, “There will be a couple of challenges that TAPS will face initially. First is conveying how a robust, functioning transit system should operate and how it can add so much value to the community. As a staff, we want to hear from riders, stakeholders, and advocates on ways we can improve the transit system and make it work better for everyone. A second challenge will be managing the very quick initial growth,”
Both Underwood and Hill feel that providing public transportation is important to further economic growth in the area.
“I think TAPS has the potential to complete or add to the already strong and vibrant infrastructure in place. Transit is an economic driver that will take the area to the next level by providing access to education, employment and services, none of which will be able to make such a huge impact like our feeder service to Parker Road rail station,” Underwood said.
“It’s crucial that we provide our residents with on demand and commuter service from the rural areas to the city (McKinney) and from the city to the Metroplex,” Hill said. “In Collin County, we have to bring the quality of public transportation up.”
Hill said he looks forward to further conversation with DART, the City of McKinney, and with NCTCOG (North Central Texas Council of Governments) to find solutions.