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Superior council considers waiving DTA fares for students

Secondary students and school district staff could ride the bus for free at little cost to the city.

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Secondary students and school district staff could ride DTA buses free if the City Council approves an agreement among the city, Duluth Transit Authority and school district. (Jed Carlson/Superior Telegram Photographer)
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Students in Superior could soon be riding Duluth Transit Authority buses for free.

Superior’s Public Works Committee approved an agreement July 1 among the Duluth Transit Authority, the School District of Superior and the city to allow students to utilize the DTA when Superior school buses are not an option.

The DTA board approved the agreement at its June 30 meeting.

The agreement would allow students in grades 6-12 to hop on the DTA for free by showing their student ID.

RELATED: Duluth Transit Authority eyes better service, mainline buses every 15 minutes With its Better Bus Blueprint, the DTA aims to reinvent itself by streamlining 33 routes into 14, and prioritizing service to high-density areas over reaching all corners.

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RELATED: Duluth Transit Authority launches mobile fare-payment app In addition to the new app, the DTA installed 80 validation devices throughout its bus network, allowing passengers to tap their phones while boarding to pay their fares.

“It came at the request of the school district, but I fell in love with this idea fairly quickly,” Mayor Jim Paine said. “The school district asked that we cover the cost for high school students to ride the DTA so they could ride it to or from for free.”

Paine said growing up exactly two miles from the high school, he can appreciate the challenges for students who don’t meet the criteria for riding a school bus.

“If you’ve ever walked two miles in the city of Superior, it’s a long way," Paine said. “It’s even longer in the winter.”

He said even for students who can take a school bus to and from school, the school bus can pose challenges for students who want to participate in extracurricular activities, have appointments or get to the bus late. He said in those circumstances, it can become a real burden for families.

“We already accommodate university students,” Paine said. “To me it seemed like a no-brainer to provide for kids, and I hope that it has other positive ancillary benefits. It will teach young folks how to ride the bus so as they get older, they have access to transportation other than just waiting desperately to turn 16 and get a driver’s license.”

Riding the bus can be challenging for people unfamiliar with the schedules, he said.

With the city’s costs for DTA bus service set at a certain amount each year and being offset by fares collected, Paine said the city has little to lose even if a whole bunch of kids started riding the bus. The city would only incur the costs that it already does and lose only a minimal number of fares because ridership among students is very low, he said.

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Existing ridership among school district students and staff is estimated at one to five passengers per day before the pandemic and may have amounted to 75 cents to $7.50 in daily fair revenue that offset the city’s annual costs. However, increasing ridership could improve grant funding for transit services.

There is no cost for the school district, and its only obligation is to provide a point of contact and to provide examples of all school-issued IDs.

“I think this is excellent,” said Councilor Jenny Van Sickle, chair of the Public Works Committee. “I think riding the bus comes very naturally to kids … Students who know how to ride transit are employment ready, real-world ready.”

In addition to giving students an option for transportation, all school district employees would have the option of taking the DTA for free. All that would be required is an employee identification badge showing they work for the Superior School District.

“It sounds like a win-win situation for all,” Councilor Ruth Ludwig said.

The Superior City Council considers the agreement when it meets at 6:30 p.m. July 20 in the Government Center Boardroom.

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