It was Duluth, Minn., or Saudia Arabia. Dennis Jensen, general manager of Duluth Transit Agency (DTA), chose Minnesota.
After the Navy Jensen went to work for an advertising agency and eventually became the Northeast regional manager for advertising and public relations for the Continental Trailways Bus System in Washington, D.C. This was his introduction to transit.
“I worked for the Trailways Group for three years and then went to work for a start-up company by the name of ATE Management and Service Company.” He was then off to Baltimore to be the administrative assistant to its manager.However, Maryland MTA assigned a contract to ATE from the bankrupt operator of ground transportation services at the former Friendship Airport and he was assigned to that contract as the marketing director.
“I was eventually named as general manager of that operation,” he says. “We got the service on to a footing where it was pretty much paying for itself,” he explains. Maryland MTA assigned a contract to ATE from the bankrupt operator of ground transportation services at the former Friendship International Airport. He adds with a laugh, “I really had worked myself out of a job, out of an assignment.”
It was at that time he got a call from ATE, asking him if he spoke Spanish. Not speaking Spanish myself, I think he said his answer was, “un poco.”
So, ATE gave Jensen a one-way ticket to Laredo, Texas.
His new assignment? “That was quite a challenge, let me put it that way,” he states. When it would rain, he and the mechanics would get into a bus to keep dry. “Keep in mind we’re still inside the building,” he says now able to laugh about it.
While at Laredo, Jensen explains the agency took over the motor pool of the former air base, Laredo Air Base, which was closing at the time; the city was acquiring that property. “They were using the federal surplus of property then, to house the bus operation and we began immediately making plans for a new building.” He adds, “I put all the grants together for buses and buildings and so forth. Then I was transferred to Duluth.”
Jensen says, “Actually I had two choices. I could go to Saudi Arabia or I could move up to Duluth.” With family in Minnesota, that sounded like the good choice.
He moved up there in 1979. ATE Management Co.’s first contract was with the city of Duluth. “In the mid-’90s they were sold, or bought, by Ryder Systems, the former truck leasing company,” Jensen explains. “They formed a public transportation division that was subsequently sold to First Group.” He adds, “That’s how I’ve come to work for First Group, or First Transit.”
The city of Duluth has a unique configuration. Jensen explains, “Duluth is primarily a southwest-northeast city. There’s an 800-foot elevation drop from the upper reaches of the area down to the lake level.”
About seven years ago, the DTA did a study, kind of a transit vision, with the MPO. It recognized that due to the configuration of Duluth, there were some problems associated with the way people had to use a bus to get where they were going. Everything went through downtown.
“If you were going anywhere in Duluth, that meant that you had to take a bus trip downtown, then you would transfer, then you would go to the other neighborhoods,” Jensen says. The MPO came up with establishing some regional transit hubs.
In the downtown area, I-35 originally was going to continue beyond Duluth. Rather than do that, the city decided they were going to terminate the interstate at a certain location and that made money available called Interstate Substitution Dollars.
“What they decided to do was to kind of revamp the main street through downtown Duluth, which is Superior Street,” expains Jensen. “Transit qualified for some of those monies.” With that money, DT established two major transit centers downtown.