DTA Meets Demands of Community with Holiday Service

April 11, 2014 at 10:18 AMhhickok

Holidays throughout the year present opportunities for people to unite in celebration with family and friends. Many businesses give employees holidays off, but not everyone gets that benefit. For instance, Duluth has a large service sector and medical industry that rely heavily on the Duluth Transit Authority (DTA) to provide transportation for their employees every day of the year.

The inception of the DTA’s current holiday service was driven by a strong demand within the community. Many Duluth residents requested transportation during these days. This demand persuaded the DTA’s Board of Directors to institute holiday schedules in 2011. Prior to that year, service was suspended on holidays. Now, the DTA operates limited holiday service on New Year’s Eve, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas.

A lot of people do take the bus to work, but there are many other reasons to ride the bus on a holiday. Whether you’re traveling to visit family on Christmas or looking to view Fourth of July fireworks and don’t want to pay for parking or deal with the traffic afterwards; public transit is a useful resource every day of the year.

The DTA has provided free fares on Thanksgiving Day for 24 consecutive years. This Thanksgiving holiday service has a limited schedule, but it also features two shuttle buses, “Turkey Bus 1” and "Turkey Bus 2,” that transport passengers to the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center (DECC) where they can enjoy a free meal with all the trimmings. In 2013, the DTA transported 2,183 passengers on Thanksgiving Day.

On Christmas Eve, the DTA suspends service after 7:00 p.m. for most routes, but does offer limited holiday service the following day. Most recently in 2013, the DTA had 1,027 passengers on Christmas Day.

The DTA extends service on New Year’s Eve and has a limited holiday schedule for New Year’s Day. Three years ago, the DTA developed the “Play It Safe” campaign to promote responsible New Year’s Eve celebrations. The Fond du Luth Casino has been the presenting sponsor of this campaign since it began in 2011. This campaign offers free fares after 5:00 p.m. and extended service until approximately 2:00 a.m. on most bus routes.

The awareness of the “Play It Safe” campaign continues to grow along with the ridership. In 2013, 2,557 passengers rode the bus during the special DTA holiday service. Ridership on New Year’s Day was also robust at 1,990.

Ridership on other holidays is also strong. The DTA transported 2,529 passengers on Memorial Day in 2013 and 3,119 passengers on Labor Day that same year. The Fourth of July holiday had the largest holiday ridership at 3,216. This includes 290 passengers from the DTA’s two Port Town Trolleys that ran service to the Duluth Fourth Fest in Canal Park.

These holiday ridership numbers are less than DTA’s average daily ridership of 8,982 passengers. However, people are riding the bus on these days and the clear benefit to the public warrants providing the service. Public transit on holidays is important for many reasons. Some depend on it for getting to the office while others are just looking for a safe and convenient mode of transportation on days when there are not many other options.

DTA Bus Operator, Roger Carr, was happy to drive Mayor Ness and Santa Claus to the Miller Hill Mall for the "Slumber Party with Santa."

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Behind the scenes during a snow storm at the DTA....

February 24, 2014 at 12:59 PMAleda Johnson

Behind the scenes during a snow storm at the DTA....

The work starts late into the evening with our last bus pulling into the garage well after midnight (1:26 a.m.) and begins early with our first bus out of the garage at 4:02 a.m.

But that is just the bus, how does it get there, where does it go and why?

During weather advisory we are preparing; we are planning.  Early in the morning dispatch is focused on operators, our GM and directors are driving the streets to observe conditions and predicted forecast, ensure reliability and efficiency and our mechanics are getting our fleet ready.  Meanwhile, directors and administrators are also updating our websites, updating our social media with Marketing and getting ready for the GO!

DTA plows are out trying to allow our buses to turn around, opening up our park and rides, allowing our passengers to have adequate shelters and although some are in rough shape, we are doing the best we can with our crew as we have 1300 stops and 125 shelters.

Another overwhelming area is communication with our public.  When some questions seem to go unanswered understand we are working on others.  Responses may be delayed but it's not because we are ignoring you, there is just so much information and perhaps Superior responses are not answered now, the focused may be on Park Point, but know we are doing our best to acknowledge every request.

Data gets shut off during service exceptions.  On a daily basis we have data and voice channels.  From time to time when we need communication amongst our fleet so we use voice only which eliminates our LIVE data. You may have heard the communications being exchanged if you were on the bus during a storm. Granted you always have scheduled times and 722-SAVE you can always call but our focus is on efficiency, getting our passengers to their location and allowing our fleet to forewarn other operators of upcoming obstacles that may occur, whether it is an accident or icy road conditions.

Along with the weather chaos we have our phone operators doing the best to get you the information you request. They are receiving real time information from dispatch and on street supervisors. They are overwhelmed as you can be sure everyone is calling looking for their bus or just to see if the buses are running.  We do our best to automate this through technology and our communication partners but can't answer all questions, hence the reason for our phone operators.

Dispatchers are always on the GO making decisions on the fly as to how to operate our fleet with little to no adherences and bad road conditions.  Bridges at a standstill, road closure due to water main breaks, accidents; you can just imagine the process of getting our fleet on time.

And sometimes it is just out of our control.  Although we want to get you to destination safely sometimes we follow advice from the State Patrol and City and pull our service for safety.  During this time we sit on hold waiting for the GO.  We have operators waiting to head out; mechanics making sure our fleet is ready and phone operators taking endless calls.  It doesn't end even when we are shut down. 

Minnesota and Wisconsin constantly keep us on the edge.  We endure countless obstacles during the day and are determined to conquer them to ensure our safety and efficiency.  We always have you in mind.  So thank you for being patient, for using our system and keeping our wheels turning.

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DTA's "Soup Sampler" A Great Success

November 8, 2013 at 12:31 PMhhickok

The DTA has many internal events that allow for interaction and communication between staff. With more than 150 employees, it is not always easy to get everyone together in the same room. Therefore, management develops events that are ongoing throughout the day so that employees can participate as they come and go from the Operating Center.

One example of this is the annual DTA "Soup Sampler" which raises money for the United Way of Greater Duluth. Staff members from all departments are encouraged to bring their favorite family recipes for soups and stews into the driver's lounge for everyone to try. For a donation of only $5, DTA employees get to sample all of the soup and stew recipes they can eat. This is a great team-building event that everyone enjoys.

On October 11th, there were 16 different soups for DTA staff to sample. The recipes ranged from chicken wild rice all the way to red stag stew. The event raised $200 for the United Way. 

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DTA Promotes U-Pass Program During UMD's Welcome Week

September 5, 2013 at 4:27 PMhhickok

As a college student, your focus should be on studying and figuring out what you want to do with your life. Getting from point A to point B should not be a priority or major concern. However, when you’re in a new town and your family is far away, finding transportation to class, a part-time job or even the grocery store can present a challenge.

During UMD's Welcome Week, DTA staff members have been providing information on how to ride the bus in Duluth for both freshmen and upperclassmen. Many of the students have never used public transportation before as they are from rural communities or suburbs of the Twin Cities. Having a table with detailed maps provides an opportunity for the students to ask questions and learn about the DTA's safe and convenient service.

 

"It has been a real pleasure talking to the students this week," said Heath Hickok, DTA Director of Marketing. "Many of these young people are enthusiastic about the opportunity to ride the bus for free to campus, work or the mall." 

The program is so successful at UMD, that in 2012 the DTA recognized its 5 millionth U-Pass passenger. Just for comparative purposes, total ridership at UMD for the 2007-2008 school year was 420,292 and in 2011-2012 it was 569,361. As ridership continues to outpace enrollment, clearly more students are choosing to leave the car at home and ride the bus. These young people are the public transit passengers of the future.

The future of public transit in Duluth is bright. As the DTA’s system grows and evolves, the U-Pass program will be a key component. If student ridership continues to increase at its current pace, the DTA will be recognizing its 10 millionth U-Pass passenger in no time.

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2013 DTA Bus Roadeo a Success

July 2, 2013 at 10:35 AMhhickok

It had been more than 10 years since the Duluth Transit Authority (DTA) held its own Bus Roadeo event. That all changed last Sunday, June 23rd at the Duluth Heritage Sports Center when the DTA held a bus roadeo as a qualifying event for the MN State Roadeo. The top two drivers qualified to participate in the 2013 MN State Bus Roadeo being held in Rochester on July 19th and 20th.

The bus roadeo is a driving skills competition that provides bus operators the opportunity to test themselves on a course of obstacles off of the main streets and routes they’re used to driving. There were 9 drivers competing in the qualifying event this year. Paul Mattson won the First-Place Award, Rick Roser won the Second-Place Award and Ruth Hoadley won the Third-Place Award. Both Paul and Rick will now compete in the MN State Roadeo in July.

Tom Szukis, DTA Director of Safety, coordinated this event and is pleased to see this DTA tradition get reestablished. “With the availability of a lot for the course at the Duluth Heritage Sports Center, after ten years we decided to start up the local roadeo competition again and use it as a qualifier for the state roadeo,” said Szukis. “The new course along with the rain we experienced on Sunday changed the complexion of the event, but after being involved with over 25 other bus roadeos over the years, I can say this was a success.” continued Szukis.

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DTA Provides Bus Riding 101 to Lighthouse Center for Vision Loss

June 7, 2013 at 3:50 PMhhickok

The Duluth Transit Authority (DTA) went to the Lighthouse Center for Vision Loss today and presented information on how to ride the bus for people who are blind or have visual impairments. The presentation consisted of a historical overview of the DTA, a discussion about fares, and a review of bus riding policies.

STRIDE information was also presented and applications were provided. Once the group had an opportunity to ask DTA staff questions, they took a tour of a bus provided by the DTA. This “Touch the Bus” demonstration allowed the students to practice how to get on and off a bus. The demonstration included using cash and fare cards with the fare box and how to find a seat safely.

The DTA’s Web Watch internet tool for monitoring where a bus is along its route and the Google Map and Ride system that shows how to get from point A to point B even if a passenger has to transfer to another bus were also discussed. Text recognition software helps assist people with vision impairments to use these efficient and effective tools for riding the bus. 

“This is all about community outreach and education,” said DTA Director of Marketing, Heath Hickok. “We want to ensure that all of our riders have access to information about our public transit system and understand how to best utilize this resource,” continued Hickok.

Other community and social groups are encouraged to contact the DTA to schedule their own Bus Riding 101 presentation. These events are offered to the public for FREE and provide a lot of valuable information for riders. FREE fare passes were also distributed to the Lighthouse Center for Vision Loss for training purposes.

Form more information, contact DTA Director of Marketing, Heath Hickok, at 218-623-4314 or hhickok@duluthtransit.com. 

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Traveling with a large group....

April 10, 2013 at 3:10 PMAleda Johnson

Tis the season for planning big events, taking trips as groups, maybe even a field trip as part of a child care group.  In this plan, consider us! 

We do ask you take measures beforehand as they are very important to us as well as you.  Trip planning can be established by using Google Plan and Ride, you can also call in to verify you are indeed taking the most economical plan we have by dialing 722-SAVE.

Another thing to consider is can we accommodate.  We are here to help, simply call and talk to us about your date, time, how many your planning to go and if you are planning a return trip as well.  Again, we are making sure our regular ridership is not already maxed out during your time so planning is our best way to get you and your group there together.

We have a planning form for more convenience below:

http://www.duluthtransit.com/form/largegroup

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Ready for summer, or at least spring!

March 27, 2013 at 12:17 PMAleda Johnson

Days are getting longer, the weather is changing and we are getting our summer schedules ready.

With plans of Tall Ships, Grandma’s Marathon our detour planning is in full swing as well.  Make sure you stay posted by signing up for RSS feeds, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

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Technology tools are great, until they are down.

March 6, 2013 at 7:09 AMAleda Johnson

That is why we rely on our backup systems we have had in place for years.

Tools help us get data faster, in a more sustainable fashion.  But what do we do when they are down and our data is not at our fingertips, we resort to old school, picking up the phone and calling for information.

With technology growing so fast, the applications are trying so hard to accommodate all the mobile devices such as IPhone, Android, Galaxy, Blackberry.  But each having their own proprietary operating system it is hard to accommodate all of them.

We are experiencing this now, and even though our goal is to accommodate, it may take a little while to get there, this is when you may have to use the old school system.

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It has been a busy year so far….

February 5, 2013 at 7:45 AMAleda Johnson

And it’s only February.

With a technology upgrade we have found a few problems and are still addressing these.  Some of these have to do with our passenger amenities and we do apologize as they were not planned.

The electronics world has switched our roles from paper products to a more diverse product.  As with every product, competition builds different operating systems, mobile devices, and we have to support them all which is difficult.

We strive to get accurate, on time information to our passengers in a timely fashion and will continue to do so.

Back to work I go….stay tuned.

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