DTA consolidated bus stops down to nine stops with two major ones being in the heart of downtown. And as Jensen says, “In retrospect, that was a mistake.
“We should have never put those directly across the street from one another because what it did, it just encouraged a lot of jaywalking as people were transferring from one route to another.
“We learned that lesson. We won’t do that again,” he adds with a laugh.
“When we started the transit centers, one of the things we were looking at was how do we get people here and what amenities do we provide,” he says. One of the amenities they wanted to provide was a daycare. “We came to an agreement with the YWCA that they would be the daycare operator in that facility,” he says.
After about four years, the YWCA had to consolidate that daycare back to the main center, as it could only operate one facility. “So we opened it up,” Jensen says. “We worked out an agreement with a private operator to open up a convenience store.” He continues, “And now we’re talking with the Duluth Police Department about opening a substation.”
The most successful hub and venture Jensen says, is at the University of Minnesota Duluth at the Kirby Center. To get this going, DTA had to assure it was going to generate ridership from the university. It looked at starting a U-pass program. Jensen says, “We certainly never coined that phrase, but we’ll steal any good idea.”
It was at this time the university was faced with the problem of having to build more parking lots to accommodate increased enrollment. “We were just very fortunate, it was perfect timing,” Jensen says. “We convinced them that if they offered a free bus pass to every student, they wouldn’t have to build new parking ramps and that’s exactly what happened.”
The service has proven so successful, it has expanded to the four other area colleges. “I would say of all the things we’ve done in the entire time I’ve been here, that has been the most successful program ever,” Jensen states.
One of the issues in the beginning was that the university ID that is used as the transit pass, it was impossible to know if a student had dropped out. “Fortunately for us we just acquired the GFI Odyssey system and so now we have programmed into our computer system; if there is an ID that is no longer an active enrollment, we get that list and we put that into our system and those IDs are rejected by the farebox.”
After the pass program, DTA moved into constructing the transit center at the student center. About this time there was a lot of talk across the country about the Welfare to Work program. There were three obstacles in getting people into the workforce: transportation, accessible daycare and education.
The university put in a daycare adjacent to the transit center. The partnership between the university and DTA created the perfect mix. “Here we had a university, we were putting in a daycare center and we had transportation service,” Jensen states.
Ahead of its Time
It was a bit of persuasion from the Minnesota DOT that DTA got swept into the amount of technology it has. The Minnesota DOT was initiating Transportation Operating Control Centers (TOCC) around the state.
“We needed to replace our radio system at that time,” he says. “We were convinced, we weren’t convinced, we were persuaded, let me put it that way,” he says laughing, “that we should take the next step and that we should be looking at AVL, automatic vehicle locators, and some of the other technology that was just coming in to being under the ITS acronym.”
For passengers waiting outside in the middle of Duluth-stricken winters, knowing exactly when the next bus is coming is important. Jensen explains, “When people call in and say, ‘well, I’ve been standing out here on the corner for 20 minutes, where’s the bus?’ Now we can look on the computer screen and tell them exactly where it is.
“Better yet, if they’re standing at a downtown transit station, there’s a sign that will tell them approximately how long it will be before the next bus comes.”