City Bus History
The name was changed from Intermodal Transportation Center to something that reflected the history of transportation in the Champaign-Urbana area.
Buses first appeared on the streets of Champaign-Urbana for a very short time in 1901. The Illinois Motor Transit Company introduced the service, which only lasted from February to December of that year.
In 1925, buses were used in conjunction with streetcars. This saved the Illinois Power & Light Company, the owner of the trolley system, the expense of laying rails and paving streets in some parts of the Twin Cities. Best of all, it allowed transit to go wherever the streets were located.
One of the City Line's buses ca.1925 National City Bus Lines, a subsidiary of General Motors, bought the trolley lines from Illinois Power & Light Company in October 1936 for $53,000. Within a month, all trolley operations were ceased and buses became the predominate mode of public transportation in C-U. National City Lines operated the system under the name Champaign-Urbana City Lines for the next 30 years.
City Lines operated the system through WWII. Ridership peaked at one million passengers in 1958, but this peak was followed by a gradual decline in ridership caused by America's ever increasing use of the automobile for primary transportation. The company raised fares in order to cover costs, causing riders to be even more reluctant to use the system. When National City Lines realized they could not make a profit, they sold the system to Westover Transit Management Corporation in 1965.
In a story that appeared in the November 17, 1970, Champaign-Urbana Courier, P.E. Cherry, then manager, described the state of affairs as, "declining ridership, 22 year old buses and deficit spending." A request was made to the Illinois Commerce Commission by the City Lines to cease operation. The hearing on the petition was put on hold in lieu of a referendum to create a mass transit district. The issue was voted on November 24, 1970, and was overwhelmingly approved. The first director, Thomas Evans, had been hired the previous April for $16,000 a year.
The first Board of Trustees of the newly formed Champaign Urbana Mass Transit District was appointed December 15, 1970. On the five-member board were Warren Burgard, Mrs. Helen Smith, Karl Tauber (chairman), Prof. Lachlan Blair, and James Benefiel. Their first meeting was held the following Friday at the Bank of Illinois.
Operations in the new transit district began August 2, 1971. Fare was 30¢ and transfers were free, just as they are today. The District leased buses and property at 501 N. Fifth Street from the City Lines. It was announced May 13, 1971, that a federal grant of $260,608 was approved along with the promise of an additional $86,869 for the purchase of fifteen new buses. Ten used buses were also purchased from Peoria.
Ten of the new GM buses were put on public display Friday, July 30, 1971. They were painted in four different colors —red, blue, green and lavender, which were used to designate the routes they served. One of the buses was also set up as a temporary "restaurant," providing a light lunch inside Lincoln Square Mall. Later in the day, the buses were shown off in a parade, which traveled from Downtown Urbana, down Green Street through Campus, then north on First to downtown Champaign and on to West Side Park, where the buses were put on display.
The plan of painting the buses a variety of colors expanded with the system. The Yellow and White Routes were added and a Red and White stripped bus was created for a Christmas "Shop and Ride" project. The driver passed out candy canes and the fare was only 10¢. The last bus to be painted a unique color was the "Generic Bus," which was painted an olive green and operated at a reduced fare. These last two buses might show up on any route at any time.
In 1971, operators worked as much as 12 straight hours a day without breaks, putting in a 55-hour, 6-day workweek. Overtime was paid at a rate of time and a half for work over 48 hours in a week. One week of vacation was offered after one year of employment with no sick time plan. After five years, two weeks of vacation were offered. The hourly rate was $2.47.
MTD has enjoyed a close working relationship with the University of Illinois since its creation. In 1973 two campus routes were created, the Illi and the Orchard Downs. The Illi provided service that's similar to the present day 22/220 Illini route, and the Orchard Downs route resembles the current 8 Bronze. University of Illinois students could either pay 10¢ a ride or purchase a semester pass for $20.
On March 1, 1973, James Mansbridge was named managing director of the mass transit district. He was hired to replace Tom Evans, who had resigned the previous October to accept a position in Phoenix, Arizona. The most sweeping change implemented by Mansbridge was the creation of the grid system, which went into effect on August 27, 1973. Eleven new routes were added, the Shop and Ride program was suspended, and the fare was reduced from 30¢ to 25¢. The color-coded buses were also done away with. Route names were changed to a street/number system, such as the Vine 12, and the Bradley 3. Others were named for the area they covered, such as the Campus 7 and the Central Belt 5. However, Mansbridge resigned on December 1, 1973, and the "grid system" was discontinued in favor of the old "loop" system on January 2, 1974.
In the early 1970s, the District faced the same problem facing the rest of the car-driving public — fuel shortage. Bus service was reduced by cutting six of the 23 buses the district operated in order to save fuel. Buses were also operated with no A/C, engines were shut down on layovers longer than three minutes, and the frequency of bus service was decreased from 15 to 30 minutes. On September 15, 1973, an emergency fuel shipment helped prevent a system-wide shut down.
C. Lynn Watson served as the interim director from the time Mansbridge resigned until Monday, January 25, 1974, when 25-year-old William Volk took over as managing director. Volk, a graduate of Indiana University, had been the assistant director for the Ft. Wayne, Indiana mass transit system. In his first month as director he oversaw the return to the loop system. And the public welcomed the change, resulting in a 10% increase in ridership.
Soon after Mr. Volk's arrival, a new MTD logo was created. Based on the international symbol for bus stops, the logo entered use around October 1, 1974. Another landmark for the first year of Volk's career was the hiring of Gayle Novak, the first female driver.
On March 29, 1974, the architecture firm of Berger and Kelly Associates presented plans for a new garage/office facility, to be built at 803 E. University in Urbana. The chosen site was formerly where the Big 4 Roundhouse was located. After scaling back the plans and making a few modifications, the board approved a final draft of the plans on September 20, 1974. The groundbreaking took place Tuesday, February 18, 1975, and the project was completed for use on November 1, 1974. A public open house was held later on April 25, 1975.
In 1984, MTD entered the national spotlight when USA Today
named it the seventh best transportation system in America. In 1986 and 1994, the District also received the American Public Transit Association's (APTA) Outstanding Achievement Award. And in 1986, its reputation for excellence became international, when the Swedish Public Transportation Association named Champaign-Urbana one of its eight "Chosen Cities."
The relationship between the District and the U of I also continued to grow. In April of 1989, the students passed a referendum establishing a one-year trial, during which MTD would provide a campus transportation system. The project proved to be a great success and continues to this day.
The District has grown considerably over the course of its history. Today, MTD carries more than 11 million passengers annually. And to keep up with that demand, the storage and repair facility, as well as the main offices, have expanded to the former Plywood Minnesota building to the east, more than doubling the company's storage capability. In 1999, MTD reached another important milestone with the completion of Illinois Terminal
, providing MTD with an enclosed transfer station and additional income through the leasing of office space.