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Celebrating 125 years of Public Transportation

History of Public Transportation in the Twin Ports

1881
Building the Track - It all began when the Duluth Street Railway was incorporated on October 25, 1881. The following month the Minnesota State Legislature granted the company a fifty year charter on the condition that one mile of track be operating within one year. Construction of a rail line on Superior Street between 8th Avenue West and 3rd Avenue East started in 1882 and was completed in 1883.
1883
First Mule-Drawn Rail Car Goes into Service - On July 6, 1883, many of Duluth's 6,000 residents lined up along Superior Street to watch a mule drawn car on rails inaugurate the area's first public transit system. The car set a brisk pace as it rolled from Third Avenue East to Eighth Avenue West a distance of eleven blocks. The original line was extended during the late 1880's. By the end of the decade, the company was operating fifteen horse-cars and 178 mules on about 4.5 miles of track.
1890
First Electric Streetcar - In 1890, donkeys and old gray mares were replaced by the first electric streetcar; and in the following two years all of the rail lines were electrified. Financial difficulties forced the company into receivership for a short time during August, 1891. Between 1891 and 1897, the system expanded and additional lines were built. The Electric Railway System grew rapidly to almost 30 miles of line and track.
1891
Incline Railway Built - In 1891, the Highland Improvement Company built the Incline Railway. The 1/2 mile long Incline ran up 7th Avenue West, rising to over 500 feet above Lake Superior. Huge cars big enough to carry horse & wagon teams were attached by cables to a power house at the top of the hill.
1893
Beacon Hill Pavilion / Incline - In 1893, the Beacon Hill Pavilion was built at the top of the Incline. It was the stage for concerts and picnics. As many as 5,000 people at a time would attend events at the park-like area. The Beacon Hill Pavilion burnt to the ground on May 28, 1901. Although the Incline Railway was repaired within six months, the Pavilion was never rebuilt. The Incline was rebuilt using smaller cars. The cost of electrification and expansion, plus the effects of the Depression of 1893, caused the company to default on the interest payments of its first and second mortgage bonds and to enter into receivership in July, 1898.
1884-1896
Superior Public Transit - In 1884, Douglas County Street Railway Company was incorporated and authorized it to construct and operate a street railway in Superior, Wisconsin. By 1890, the company owned four horse-cars and eight horses. Electrification of the system was accomplished in 1890. The Superior Rapid Transit Company acquired the rights and properties of the Douglas County Street Railway Company in August, 1892. Additional track was constructed during 1892 and 1893, financed by mortgage bonds that were issued in 1894. However, the company defaulted on the interest payments and was placed in receivership in January, 1896.
1897
Duluth-Superior Bridge Company - In 1887, the streetcar bridge between Duluth and Superior was completed and in 1900, the Duluth Street Railway Company leased for streetcar service between Duluth and Superior.
1900
Duluth and Superior Transit Operations Consolidated - By 1900, the population of Duluth had increased to 52,000 people and Superior's residents numbered around 31,000. At this time, the Duluth Street Railway Company and the Superior Traction Company were consolidated and reorganized following the 1898 receivership. The total system now operated on 74 miles of streetcar track throughout the Twin Ports. The fare was a nickel and it looked as though public transit was here to stay. By 1920, the transit system served area residents with over 100 miles of streetcar track.
1919
Highest Transit Ridership in Twin Ports - Transit ridership in Duluth and Superior totaled 45,259,127 in 1919.
1924
First Gasoline-powered bus - The first gasoline powered bus appeared on Duluth streets in 1924.
1931
First Electric Trolley - The first electric trolley bus was put into service in 1931.
1933
Duluth-Superior Transit Emerges - In September, 1933, all of the properties of the Duluth Street Railway Company were transferred to the Duluth- Superior Transit Company, which was incorporated in January, 1933. The transit system's mixed fleet in 1933 consisted of 110 streetcars, two electric trolley busses and nine gasoline-powered buses.
1935
Buses Replace Streetcars - During the 1930's, all of the streetcars in the system were replaced by buses. Streetcars stopped operating in Superior, Wisconsin in 1935.
1939
Streetcar / Incline Service Discontinued - The last rail line in Duluth was abandoned and the Incline Railway dismantled in 1939.
1951
Propane Buses - Propane buses were introduced in 1951, and discontinued, along with electric trolley buses in 1957.
1957
First Diesel Buses - The first modern diesel buses were put into service on October 24, 1957.
1969
DTA is Legislatively Created - - An act of the Minnesota State Legislature created the Duluth Transit Authority (DTA) in 1969. The Authority's first Citizen's Board was formed in February 1970 and one of the Board's first acts was to enter into an agreement with a new company, ATE Management and Services, Inc., for the operation and management of the DTA. All personnel at the former Duluth Superior Street Railway company became employees of a local operating subsidiary, ATE Management of Duluth, Inc. The original ATE company was acquired by Ryder Systems, Inc. in 1996, and in 2001 this company was acquired by First Transit, Inc.
1981
New DTA Operations Center - The old "Bus Barn" at 27 A.W. and Superior Street was replaced in 1981, when construction of the Earl Buck Operations Center was completed on Michigan Street between 24 A.W. and 26 A.W. The Operations Center now houses all maintenance, operations and administrative functions of the DTA.
1984
Port Town Trolleys - New rubber-tired trolleys were put into service in 1984 and operate as a downtown connector during summer months.
2007
Hybrid Buses - The DTA purchased two Hybrid Electric buses in 2007 that operate on a blend of diesel and electric propulsion.
Today
DTA Today - Today, the Duluth Transit Authority is one of the most technologically sophisticated transit systems in the country. The DTA, which provides service in Duluth, Proctor and Superior, Wisconsin, maintains a modern fleet of 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.
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