Despite losing more than half of its ridership during the pandemic, the Duluth Transit Authority is set to drop some of its fares.

The DTA announced a virtual public meeting at 3 p.m. Monday to discuss the proposed changes, which would lower the cost of a single-day bus pass to $3 and seven-day passes to $15, down from $4 and $17, respectively.

A 31-day youth pass will go to $30, down from $37.50.

The News Tribune spoke with General Manager Phil Pumphrey about the changes, which he said should encourage ridership.

Phil Pumphrey is the general manager of the Duluth Transit Authority. (Clint Austin / 2018 file / News Tribune)
Phil Pumphrey is the general manager of the Duluth Transit Authority. (Clint Austin / 2018 file / News Tribune)

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“I don’t think we’ll make up for lost revenue, because the pandemic has impacted ridership so much,” Pumphrey said. “But we want to make it more of an attraction for people who are watching their budgets to use the bus, particularly families with kids, and in the summer.”

The DTA also has proposed to discontinue the sale of 90-, 180-, and 360-day pass formats. The 90-day summer youth pass for ages 5-19 will still be available.

“Kids have a lot of opportunities and free time in the summer, and we think it’s important as part of the community to help kids get to different programs,” Pumphrey said.

Pumphrey said the DTA is not only acting in response to the pandemic, but also that it’s following a recent transportation development plan, which recommended simplifying fares, and also bringing fares in line with peer transit systems.

The proposed changes have been approved by the DTA board of directors for public comment. Any fare changes will need to be approved by the Duluth City Council.

The public meeting via Zoom on Monday will feature members of DTA leadership on hand to answer questions and receive comments.

The DTA is also proposing to discontinue the acceptance of pennies in its fareboxes to speed up boarding.

Pumphrey said ridership is about 45% of what it was pre-pandemic, with 4,200 passengers daily compared to 10,000-12,000 before the pandemic.

The DTA has avoided layoffs, Pumphrey said, by making up losses with funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

“We’ve made up some of our fares with the CARES Act, in fact, a lot of it,” Pumphrey said.

The DTA went the first seven months of the pandemic offering free fares, a practice that ended at the start of October.

Pumphrey said 10% of the workforce has been hit by COVID-19 through a few different waves of the virus.

But driver barriers are in place on all buses, and new fare boxes have been installed, completing a long-planned upgrade to the system that's expected to expedite the boarding process.

Service levels are also headed back to 100%. At its lowest point, the DTA operated only 85% of its routes. The current number is 91%.

“We’re close to full routes,” Pumphrey said, adding that the free, downtown circulator, DuLooper, will be among the routes being returned.

Pumphrey has offered up the use of the DTA once mass vaccination clinics are established, possibly this spring. It’s unclear if the DTA will be used in that way.

“It’s hard to say,” Pumphrey said. “It really depends on how much of the vaccine can be pushed out to the state.”

To join Monday's meeting, visit us02web.zoom.us/j/85704836124?pwd=TFVuZStLU2R0eUZCeUptd3FzcjdhUT09. The meeting ID is 857 0483 6124 and passcode is 189560.

Comments on fare changes can also be mailed to DTA/Route Changes at 2402 W. Michigan St., Duluth, MN 55806 or emailed to planning@duluthtransit.com.