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Magazine Article by Heath Hickok featuring the Duluth Transit Authority

Published: Expires: 4/18/2013

Imagine a frigid January morning and the temperature is well below zero. At 5:55 am, she puts on her jacket and laces up her boots. It’s still dark out and the 6 inches of fresh snow is going to make for a difficult commute – that is for most people. She walks a block and is patiently waiting at the bus stop by 6:00 am. A few minutes later, the Duluth Transit Authority’s (DTA) #9 bus arrives on time as usual.

At the office, none of her coworkers have arrived yet. While she drinks her coffee and checks emails, the sun begins to rise over Lake Superior. People begin shuffling in and the commotion turns the once quiet office into a hive of activity. Near the coffee pot, people begin sharing their difficult and oftentimes dangerous driving stories. By then, she has already finished two cups of coffee and several tasks on her list.

The woman is my 63 year-old mother, Debra, who has worked at Duluth’s largest employer, Essentia Healthcare, for more than 12 years now. Needless to say, she always arrives on time.

Her story, much like many others who use public transportation in Duluth, is a positive one. In a city built on a hill that spans nearly 30 miles, the DTA has provided dependable transit service for more than 130 years. At first, public transit in Duluth consisted of trolleys and streetcars. However, as the city grew during the Industrial Revolution, the streetcars were replaced by buses and ridership continued to increase.

The DTA, which provides service in Duluth, Proctor and Superior, Wisconsin, maintains a modern fleet of 62 transit buses, including Hybrid electric buses. In addition to regular route services, the DTA operates curb-to-curb STRIDE (Special Transit Ride) services for disabled riders and the Port Town Trolley seasonal circulator service for summer visitors. In 2012, the DTA provided 3,261,494 rides in the communities they serve. This was the fifth consecutive year with ridership over 3 million. Many of these riders are students. In fact, the DTA recently recognized their 5 Millionth U-Pass rider. This program gives FREE passes to UMD students.

In May of 2012, the city of Duluth and the DTA announced that the proposed Multimodal Transportation Center (MTC) had received all funding required to complete the $27.5 million project. It is moving forward and is expected to be under construction by the end of this year and completed in late 2014. The MTC will provide an indoor terminal area for the transferring of bus passengers. It will include an 8-bay bus boarding platform, along with an indoor passenger-waiting area, seating and public restrooms. The MTC will include a DTA-staffed information desk for ticket sales and transit information. It will also include a bike storage area, a police substation, and both public and private parking.

The city of Duluth’s administration has been supportive of the Multimodal Transportation Center. Duluth Mayor Don Ness has worked with the DTA since on securing the necessary funding to move the project forward. Mayor Ness believes that the MTC will have a positive impact on the community and will compliment other new business developments in the downtown area.

“We’re very excited about the Multimodal Center and what it means for downtown Duluth. Not only will it provide better access for bus riders, bicyclist, and folks who use other forms of public transportation, but the Northwest Passage Skywalk will also serve as the key link between downtown and Canal Park, especially the DECC,” said Ness.

The DTA is always looking towards the future of public transit in their region and beyond. General Manager, Dennis Jensen, has been with the DTA since 1979 and believes that the MTC could be used as a model for other transportation centers across the state of Minnesota.

“We like to think that we are laying the groundwork for the future. We know that owning and operating a car is not for everyone, and transportation centers like this will become a means by which Minnesotans can access whatever mode of public conveyance they need to move around the state or the cities and towns in which they live, whether it is by bus or rail or even bicycles.  Having all transportation modes available at a single, well designed, attractive and secure location will be a benefit to everyone using the public transportation system,” said Jensen.

The MTC will also serve as a boarding location for Jefferson Lines and Indian Trails Inter-City Lines, along with Arrowhead Transit and LCS Coaches. The project will include the re-construction of the Northwest Passage skywalk to the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center (DECC), which will be designed with a pedestrian/bike walkway; and a new skywalk connection to Superior Street through the current Transit Center East building.

Whether you’re a UMD student who rides the bus as part of the U-Pass program, a senior citizen who needs to visit the doctor, a visitor looking to explore the city, or one of the 6,000 employees at Essentia Healthcare who save 50 percent on monthly bus passes; the Duluth Transit Authority will be there providing dependable and convenient public transportation for all.

Written By: Heath Hickok

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