Driver shortage forces Duluth Transit Authority to suspend routes and slow rollout of new network – Reuters

DULUTH — A revamped bus network that was due to start this summer is now on hold, after transit officials announced a shortage of bus operators on Monday.

The shortage also means the suspension of a key route from west Duluth to the Miller Hill Mall area, as well as the Port Town Trolley serving the waterfront, the Duluth Transit Authority said in a press release on Monday. .

“Workforce instability is something we juggle all the time and it has tightened up on our end over the last week or so,” said general manager Rod Fournier. “The drivers we have are doing a fantastic job of filling all those gaps, but sometimes the heavy lifting gets too much.”

Fully staffed, the DTA relies on approximately 100 to 102 full-time equivalent drivers.

“We’re missing at least 15 right now,” Fournier said.

Duluth Transit Authority General Manager Rod Fournier poses in the DTA garage on February 15, 2022.

Steve Kuchera/Dossier/Duluth News Tribune

Driver training is an intensive process and does not create sudden reversals. The DTA is holding a new training class later this month, hoping to bring seven new drivers on board.

The DTA had planned to launch its high-frequency service this summer. Anchored by two main lines that criss-cross the city every 15 or 20 minutes, depending on the time of day, the service was the first reimagining of the bus network in its history.

“We will push back the launch,” Fournier said. “Given our current challenges, we will push back until we feel like we are complete and 100 per cent ready.”

The DTA had taken care of the preparation of the new network – creating the new timetables, removing obsolete bus stops and improving others.

“At the end of the day, it’s people who move this system,” DTA spokesman David Clark said.

Route 5, running from west Duluth to the Miller Hill Mall area, and the Port Town Trolley between downtown and Canal Park will be suspended starting Sunday.

The Port Town Trolley is a free offering and tends to be popular with tourists.

Pausing Route 5 impacts several other routes, which will also be paused, including:

  • Travel inbound on Route 10E departing from Gate 8 of Miller Hill Mall at 7:05am and travel outbound to Route 1 Zoo from Duluth Transportation Hub at 7:35am weekdays.
  • Route 9MT departs Piedmont Park & ​​Ride at 7:07 a.m. arriving downtown at 7:23 a.m.

“These individual trips, while not part of Route 5, are connected via interline service and will also be suspended until ‘5’ service returns,” the DTA said.
The new network to come to the DTA has been simplified, with 15 lines instead of the current 33, and has been accompanied by a reduction in the number of bus stops in town, going from 350-400 to 1,000 stops. At no cost, the changes were designed to increase bus frequency and provide better service to major destinations such as Superior, Lincoln Park, West Duluth, the Mall, hospitals and universities.

The changes should take place without an increase in tariffs.

“Our No. 1 priority right now is recruiting drivers,” Fournier said. “We fight for the same people as any transport agency.”

Anyone interested in any of the current Bus Operator vacancies and other DTA positions can visit duluthtransit.com and search for “careers” on the homepage.

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