The buses of the Duluth Transit Authority (DTA) haven't just taken Dennis Jensen around the city, downtown or up to the mall -- they've taken him to Jamaica and Ireland.
Well, not literally. Jensen has used his experience as DTA general manager to advise a bus making company near Belfast, Ireland about five years ago and a troubled bus company in Kingston, Jamaica this year.
"I thought it would be kind of exciting," Jensen said about advising in Jamaica. "But staying in the heart of Kingston was not a vacation."
In Kingston, Jamaica's capital, crime is a large problem, and Jensen and the other advisors had bodyguards assigned to them.
Kingston offered an interesting challenge because there were so many issues to deal with. The Jamaican Urban Transit Company (JUTC) has problems with security, from trouble at its maintenance sheds to concerns with control of bus fare funds, Jensen said.
Yet even with its problems, the JUTC provides about 100 million passengers a year.
The JUTC also has maintenance problems, partly extending from the fact that all busses and parts have to be imported, he said. Often, buses break down and are used to provide spare parts.
"My philosophy is that you have to have a strong maintenance program for a system to work," Jensen said.
That is why at the DTA, he said, busses are washed daily and serviced every 3,000 miles.
"It makes me feel very fortunate to be at the DTA," Jensen said. "You don't realize how professional the DTA is until you visit other systems."
Jensen and the other advisors made their recommendations in May and since then the JUTC has already began to implement many of the recommendations, Jensen said.
Jensen went on the trips through First Transit Inc., a transportation management company, that Duluth contracts to run the DTA. In essence, all DTA employees are First Transit employees. As a First Transit employee, Jensen is also the Mountain West area vice president. As area vice president, Jensen also advises managers at other First Transit operations from Illinois to Iowa. So Jensen's job keeps him in touch with busers around the country.
"I love to go to other bus systems because you can do a mental comparison between their system and yours," he said.
Comparing systems comes in handy because improving service is one thing Jensen is all about.
Jensen was inspired to work with the bus service industry about 30 years ago because of problems he saw with one company's service.
While working for an advertising firm on a bus line's account, Jensen noticed the bus service wasn't as good as the advertising he was producing, and he wanted to change that, he said.
That was back in the 1970s, since then Jensen has worked at the Baltimore airport and Lorado, Texas bus services. For the past 26 years, he's been with the DTA.
"You can't be around as long as I have without learning something," he said.
Next up for the DTA is the release of a 31-day pass, which will be introduced Dec. 12. Passenger will be able to purchase the pass any day of the month, and it will be good for the next 31 days, Jensen said.
The DTA also is continuing to work on plans to reduce downtown congestion.