Column: More than just musing about multi-modal transit

Imagine a frigid January morning and the temperature is well below zero. At 5:55 a.m., 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...

Heath Hickok
Heath Hickok

Imagine a frigid January morning and the temperature is well below zero. At 5:55 a.m., 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 a.m. 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 those of 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.

The DTA, which provides service in Duluth, Proctor, and Superior, Wisconsin, maintains a modern fleet of 62 transit buses, including hybrid electric buses. The DTA also 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. This was the fifth consecutive year with ridership exceeding 3 million. Many of these riders are students. In fact, the DTA recently recognized its five-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 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 eight-bay bus boarding platform, along with an indoor passenger-waiting area, seating and public restrooms, including 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 been working with the DTA 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 complement other new business developments in the downtown area.

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

"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. 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 intercity buses, along with Arrowhead Transit and LCS Coaches. The project will include the reconstruction 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 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.

Heath Hickok has been a Duluth resident most of his life. He currently advocates for transportation and public transit initiatives across the state as the Program Coordinator at the Minnesota Transportation Alliance, and Minnesota Public Transit Association. Contact him at 651-659-0804 or .

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