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History of Mass Transit in Williamsport

Before the era of the automobile, the growth and development of populated areas depended on the availability of good public transportation. At first, these modes of transportation existed only to carry passengers from one town or village to another. Later, as some areas steadily grew in population and geographic size, modes of public transportation were developed which could carry residents between destinations within their own cities. It's not surprising then that Williamsport, which has been the largest city in northcentral Pennsylvania almost from its beginnings, boasts a long and varied history of local public transportation.

Early Forms of Transit

Settlers began coming to the Williamsport area in the mid-1700's. They came either by flat boats poled upstream or by foot and pack horses over narrow Indian paths. Later, after 1772 when construction of several roads had begun, the settlers were able to use wagons.

Early Trolley Pulled by a Team of Horses

The first mode of public transportation in the area was the stagecoach. In 1809, when Williamsport had a population of just over 200 people, James Cummings, a local tavern owner, started stagecoach service between Northumberland and Williamsport. There was one scheduled trip per week and the 40-mile trip took 14 hours. By 1814 service had been extended to Jersey Shore.

(picture: Car 4 at Market Square about 1866 -photo looks north)

However, in Williamsport in the 1800's, as in most river communities of that time, transportation largely revolved around the river. The West Branch Division of the Susquehanna Canal, which was part of a statewide canal system, reached Williamsport in 1833 and Lock Haven in 1834. The canal was instrumental in the development of Williamsport as a lumbering center. As for passenger transport, this was provided by packet boats which were introduced sometime around 1838. These boats were towed by horses, relays of which were provided at certain points. In Williamsport the packet boats docked at the Exchange Hotel located on Market Street and their arrival always generated a great deal of excitement.

The Pennsylvania canal system was greatly damaged by the floods of 1889 and 1894. But its demise was near in any case as canals were already giving way to railroads as the principal means of intercity transportation.

The Streetcar Era

In the city of Williamsport itself, there was great growth and prosperity in the mid-1800's. These were the days of the Lumber Boom, and throughout the nation Williamsport was known as a town of millionaires. These millionaires, in an expression of civic pride and ambition, provided the funds and impetus for the development of Williamsport's first form of intracity public transportation - the streetcar. There followed an exciting era in local transportation marked by a number of innovations and many controversies.

The population of Williamsport had increased to around 6,000 when, on April 15, 1863, Governor Andrew G. Curtin signed a charter creating the Williamsport Passenger Railway Company. This charter gave the company the right to build branches through any of the streets of Williamsport with either single or double track. For one reason or another, it was not until a year later that construction of a railway line actually began, and only then because of the efforts of Peter Herdic. He, in addition to being Williamsport's leading industrialist and entrepreneur of the 19th century, was also the inventor of the Herdic, a horse-drawn carriage with side seats and a back entrance, a forerunner of the taxicab

The original line of the Williamsport railway extended roughly 1. 1 miles from Market Street west on Third Street to Pine and north on Pine to Fourth, then west on Fourth to the newly constructed Herdic House, now the Park Home. The first streetcars were placed in service on this line in 1865 in time for the State Fair held in Williamsport that September. These cars were noisy, swaying vehicles drawn by horses and equipped with small stoves to keep passengers warm In the winter. In 1870 enclosed sleighs were brought into service for operation when deep snows made the passage of other vehicles impossible.

At first, Herdic used large, 26-passenger cars requiring two horses and provided 94 trips per day. However, this quickly proved to be too much service, and smaller, 16-passenger cars requiring only one horse were soon introduced.

The Williamsport Company was not very successful under Herdic's control. In 1875 the system carried 220,643 passengers, but profits were insufficient to make any improvements. In 1879 control of the company passed from Herdic to Robert P. Allen, and then in 1886 to John Lawshe, a newcomer to the city who had already become influential in banking circles.

It was under Lawshe's control that the company began its first major expansion - no doubt largely because its monopoly of Williamsport's streets was being challenged for the first time. In 1887 the Common Council granted rights to the recently organized Peoples' Passenger Railway Company to build seven miles of lines, mainly in South Williamsport. However, this threat to the Williamsport Company never came to anything as the Pennsylvania Act of 1878, under which the People's charter was granted, was found to be unconstitutional

Also in 1887, the Williamsport Company engaged in its first legal battle. The Company had begun constructing extensions on Third and Fourth Streets when the City secured an injunction stopping all construction until the City had officially given its approval. The Company went to court, arguing on the basis of their original charter. Even though this charter gave them more control than that enjoyed by any other horse railway in the state, the State Supreme Court found in the Company's favor, and the various extensions were opened on September 1, 1888. This dispute was just the beginning of the conflicts between the City and the Williamsport Passenger Railway Company concerning right of use and responsibility for street maintenance.

In 1890, the Williamsport Company was purchased for $125,000 by a Philadelphia syndicate headed by local resident Hiram Rhoads, who was also head of the Williamsport and North Branch Telephone Company and secretary of the Lycoming Electric Company. Under Rhoads, electrification of the system was begun, and on August 5 and 6, 1891, several successful trial runs were held on the reconstructed Third Street line. With these electric cars in operation, Williamsport was ahead of its time: even Philadelphia could not boast of electric streetcars for another year.

Two electric trolleys travel through market square around the turn of the century

The new cars were an immediate success with city residents. As reported in the Grit on August 9, 1891: "and the people Williamsport has rapid transit at last, are as proud of the new electric cars as a boy is of a new toy. They are a novelty, and are being enjoyed as such by everybody . . ."

(Picture: Two electric trolleys traveling through Market Square around the turn of the century. Note the unpaved streets and many curb-side market stands.)

Within three months the Fourth Street line was also electrified, and service initiated on November 14. These lines operated 20 hours a day, from 5:05 a.m. to 1:40 a.m. the following day.

In 1892 the Company built an extension to Newberry by way of Cemetery Street and Erie Avenue. A separate company, the Newberry Bridge Company, was formed to construct a bridge across Lycoming Creek at Blaine Street. This bridge was exclusively for the use of streetcars; the costs of its construction were partially defrayed by a one-cent toll on each passenger who was transported across.

As the popularity of streetcars grew, it was inevitable that the monopoly of the Williamsport Passenger Railway Company would again be challenged. In the early months of 1892 charters were granted to six new companies -the Vallamont Passenger Railway, Citizens' Passenger Railway, and the South Side Passenger Railway, all under the control of J. Henry Cochran; the Junction Passenger Railway Company; the Centre and West End Passenger Railway Company, and the East End Passenger Railway Company.

The ensuing struggle over the rights to occupy Williamsport's streets soon erupted into the so-called "Streetcar War." On April 8 the Junction Company received a charter which gave it the right to connect the proposed South Side and Vallamont Railway lines. The logical route was Market Street. The Williamsport Passenger Railway Company was not prepared to stand for this, and so, acting under its blanket rights, it began laying tracks along the length of Market Street just six days after the junction Company was chartered. The latter company retaliated by ripping out the tracks as soon as they were laid. It also sought relief from the courts and was granted a preliminary injunction. The legal battle that followed went as far as the State Supreme Court which on May 16, 1893 ruled against the Williamsport Company. This decision was a reversal of the Court's 1887 ruling and marked the end of the Company's monopoly. During this period, the local press reported continuously on the course of events, publishing a number of caricatures of Hiram Rhoads that poked fun at his attempts at empire building.

Soon after the Williamsport Company's monopoly was broken, the competing companies began constructing their own lines. On May 30, 1893 the East End Company opened service on its line which ran up Franklin Street hill and back down via Lincoln, Almond, and Washington Boulevard. And, on August 1, 1893, the Vallamont loop offering service to the Vallamont section of the city was officially opened.

On February 17, 1894, Hiram Rhoads died suddenly at the age of 49. Within a month, Cochran founded a new company, the Lycoming Improvement Company, which shortly thereafter purchased the capital stock of the Williamsport Passenger Railway Company. At about the same time, four of the other railway companies - the Vallamont, the Citizens' Passenger, the Centre and West End, and the Junction - were merged to form the Vallamont Traction Company, also controlled by Cochran. And, by the end of 1894, Cochran acquired the last of the independents, the East End Company. Thus, ironically, within a year of Rhoads' death, Cochran was able to achieve the monopoly that Rhoads had so vigorously but unsuccessfully tried to maintain.

Since all the railways were now under a single management, a single fare was instituted on August 14, 1894 which allowed passengers to ride anywhere within the railway system for five cents. The entire system was known by the name of the Williamsport Passenger Railway Company.

Also in 1894, construction was begun on the first line extending service outside the city limits. On March 9, 1895 service on the South Side Railway was officially begun. Although a separate corporation, this railway was also under the control of the Lycoming Improvement Company. The tracks crossed the Susquehanna on a cantilever attached to the east side of the Market Street bridge, ran south on Market to Southern Avenue, then west to Maynard Street and back.

Almost since the day electric cars were introduced, accidents had been a concern of some citizens. Most accidents were blamed on excessive speed, which reached about twenty miles per hour. Responding to public outrage over the problem, City Council passed an ordinance in 1895 limiting streetcar speed to eight-to-ten miles per hour.

In 1897, a second line running outside the city went into service. This was the Montoursville line, owned and operated by the Montoursville Passenger Railway Company, which in turn was owned by a Philadelphia firm, the Tennis Construction Company. The line connected with the Third Street line in Williamsport, and a passenger could travel from Montoursville to Market Square for ten cents. The cars ran every half-hour and the trip took 30 minutes, about half the time it had previously taken by horse-and-buggy or train.In the borough itself, one line ran down Broad as far as Walnut Street. The other traveled down Broad to Montour Street, then north to Loyalsock Avenue and west for one block. In 1898 this line was extended north to Starr Island, a popular recreation area along Loyalsock Creek.

Montoursville passenger railway car on third street

The period from the 1890's to about the time of World War I was the heyday of streetcar service in Williamsport. Trolley parties were very popular during the summer months, and parents would often charter a car for an evening for childrens' outings. The streetcars also did a good business carrying 'dents to the local recreation areas. The Vallamont loop, for example, served a nine-hole golf course located west of Woodmont Avenue, as well as Vallamont Park. For ten cents residents got a round-trip ride to the park plus free admission to a matinee performance in the pavilion. In addition, the loop served Athletic Park, home of the Williamsport Millionaires of the Tri-State Baseball League.

(picture: Car 1 of the Montoursville Passenger Railway Company standing on East Third Street in Williamsport about the turn of the century. This was one on Montoursville's original two cars.)

In the east end of Williamsport, there was Union Park. And in Montoursville, there was Starr Island. This wooded park, opened in 1898, offered picnic grounds, boating facilities, and a bathing area. Later, in 1909, it was renamed Indian Park and became a large and very popular amusement park.

Squabbles with their respective municipalities over maintenance and repair of the streets dogged both the Williamsport and Montoursville railway companies. In 1891, the Williamsport City Council passed an ordinance levying a $50 annual tax on each streetcar to help pay for the costs of street maintenance. (This tax remained in effect until 1926.) In 1900 the issue came to a head when the city was repaving several of the main thoroughfares with improved paving. The streetcar company refused to do the same, and the city went to court. The State Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of the company, stating that their only obligation was to maintain the paving between the tracks, not to repave with new and different paving. Similarly in Montoursville, the Loyalsock Township supervisors went to court seeking to compel the railway company to keep the roadway in repair. In this case the referee ruled in favor of the township and the company was required to pave the space between the tracks with macadam.

The End of an Era

There were few extensions of trolley service after the late 1890's, the only major one being the Cemetery Line which opened for service May 10, 1908 and which ran from the intersection of Park and Campbell to the Wildwood Cemetery gate. The rolling stock was continually upgraded though, and in general, the system was well run and maintained. Beginning around the time of World War 1, continually rising costs and increasing competition from jitney buses and automobiles began to cut heavily into the profits of streetcar companies everywhere. The owners of the Lycoming Improvement Company were therefore happy to sell their interests in 1923 to the Lehigh Power Securities Corporation, a holding company of the Pennsylvania Power and Light Company.

In 1924 the Montoursville Railway Company, owned since 1909 by a group of local investors, was also sold to PP&L. At the time of the sale, the company was more than $80,000 in debt and had not shown a profit for nearly ten years. PP&L was only interested in the acquisition because of the power company which the railway owners also controlled. The streetcar interests were sold to the Lycoming Auto Transit Company, which brought in three new buses to replace the streetcars. The streetcars ran for the last time on August 7, 1924.In 1924 the Montoursville Railway Company, owned since 1909 by a group of local investors, was also sold to PP&L. At the time of the sale, the company was more than $80,000 in debt and had not shown a profit for nearly ten years. PP&L was only interested in the acquisition because of the power company which the railway owners also controlled. The streetcar interests were sold to the Lycoming Auto Transit Company, which brought in three new buses to replace the streetcars. The streetcars ran for the last time on August 7, 1924.

One year later, motor buses made their first appearance as part of the Williamsport system when a bus line to Duboistown was established in 1925.

A number of buses in front of Lycoming county courthouse circa nineteen thirty three
(Picture: A number of buses in front of the Lycoming County Courthouse in June, 1933)

After a thorough study, the management of Lehigh Securities decided that the Williamsport streetcar system was viable, though still weak. A major effort to rehabilitate and modernize the system was subsequently instituted. To set the stage for this effort, the four streetcar companies were consolidated in 1926 to form the Williamsport Railways Company, marking the first time the entire system was under one corporate title. Shortly thereafter, the company erected a new car barn at West Third and Park Streets (later the Administration Building of the Williamsport Area Community College), purchased five new cars, rehabilitated some of the older ones, and rebuilt much of the track.

When these improvements were completed, at a total cost of $245,700, Williamsport could claim to have one of the finest properties of its size in the entire electric railway industry. Although ridership increased for a brief period, this did not last long. As part of its efforts to save the system, the company increased fares in March 1927 to eight cents but this soon proved insufficient, and on August 1, 1930 fares were again raised - this time to ten cents. Still the company lost more than $26,000 that year. To make matters worse, the community, and therefore the company, was beginning to feel the effects of the Great Depression. A study of the trolley system was conducted; it showed the Vallamont line losing the most money and proposed that buses replace trolleys on this route. Six buses were subsequently ordered from the Twin Coach Corporation and placed in service on June 28, 1931. They were operated by the newly formed Williamsport Transportation Company, a subsidiary of the Williamsport Railways Company.

In 1932, wages of company employees were cut by ten percent in January and by another ten percent in October. But to no avail. In the last week of December 1932, the Company announced that it would suspend trolley service in March 1933 and bus service in July. Williamsport faced a lack of passenger service for the first time in 68 years.

As news of the trolley abandonment became known, no fewer than three promoters expressed interest in establishing a bus system in Williamsport. However, one of them, the Montour Auto Service Company, soon had to drop out because it was unable to raise the necessary capital. The remaining two were the White Transportation Company of Wilkes-Barre and Alvin R. Bush, a promoter from Olean, New York, who operated a bus system in that area.

Now, once again, there was intense competition over who was to control the transit system in Williamsport. While the state Public Service Commission reviewed the applications and held extensive hearings, both parties tried to influence the decision. Bush, financially backed by local residents John G. Snowden and Mrs. Mabel Koons, went ahead and purchased the Williamsport Transportation Company for $50,000 in cash. The White Company was unable to raise this amount in one lump sum. However, by promising to lower the fare from three tokens for 25 to four tokens for 25 , White succeeded in getting Mayor Harris and the Williamsport City Council to pass a resolution supporting its bid for exclusive rights. Although Bush countered by vowing that his system would be locally owned and managed, the City Council remained loyal to White. Finally, on May 17, 1933, after four months of deliberation and hearings, the PSC ruled in favor of Bush giving him exclusive rights to provide bus service in the Williamsport area.

After adding five buses from his Olean operation to the existing fleet of buses, Bush announced on June 1, 1933 that he was ready to begin bus service and that trolley service would end in ten days.

Picture of electric trolley just before they stopped running
(Picture: Abandonment of the trolleys was less than 3 months away when this view of Market Street was taken in March of 1933)

On the night of June 10, 1933, the trolleys were jam-packed with Williamsport residents who no doubt realized that it was the end of an era. At 1 a.m. on Sunday, June 11, the last trolley rolled to a halt. "The transportation pride of an earlier generation," wrote a later historian of the era, "yielded to the age of speed and the familiar clatter of trolley wheels on steel rails was no more."

It is interesting to note that Williamsport's newer trolleys continued to operate in other systems for a number of years. Five of the newest ones were used in Allentown until 1953. Even more surprising, several of the trolleys bought around the time of World War I were used in San Francisco for a decade or more. As for the trolley tracks, a good many were removed during 1934 -35. Others were covered by repaving, although a section was still visible at the intersection of Walnut Street and Belmont Avenue until 1974.

Bus Service Begins

The new bus service officially started service at 5:30 a.m. on June 11. Buses were now Williamsport's principal form of public transportation.

Bush established headquarters for the Williamsport Transportation Company at the former Rothfuss garage on East Third and Penn Streets. This building housed the company's management offices, a maintenance area, and the storage garage for the fleet. Service was started with 15 buses, and Bush basically kept the same routes, schedules, and hours of operation as the trolley system. The six routes were: Third Street, South Side, East End, West Fourth and Park Avenue, North Market and North Campbell, and Duboistown. Other than minor scheduling modifications to meet rush hour demand, there were few changes in this basic route system during Bush's tenure.

Picture of bus used in 1925
(Picture: One of the buses used on the Duboistown bus line which was established in 1925.)

As for employees for the new company, 35 former streetcar company employees qualified as bus drivers, and C. C. Fast, former manager of the Williamsport Railway Company and the Williamsport Transportation Company, served as the bus system's first manager. Residents of the city were a bit amused by the different colors on the original buses and driver uniforms, but they already appreciated the faster and safer service that the buses provided.

Bush also immediately purchased several new buses from the Yellow Coach Company The first four, each seating 30 passengers, arrived on July 22, 1933 and were placed on the Fourth Street and Park Avenue line. All through the years that Bush controlled the company, new buses were always a high priority as he wanted to have the most modern fleet possible. By the Company's second anniversary, it operated 24 buses and employed 57 people while carrying between 250,000 to 270,000 passengers each month and logging over one million vehicle-miles per year. In 1935 Bush expanded his control of transportation services by buying the Keystone Taxi Company from Raymond E. Bohartz. Under Bush's ownership, a new fleet of taxicabs was placed in service with each vehicle equipped with a radio for quick dispatching. A new fare structure was also implemented. Now the charge was only 250 for the first 11/2 miles, and there was no charge for extra passengers.

In 1937 the Williamsport Transportation Company had to deal for the first time with an organized union of employees. In that year some of the bus operators formed a local union under a branch of the Electric Transportation and Motor Coach Employees of America, Division 1161, an affiliate of the American Federation of Labor. A grievance was immediately filed against the Company for the discharge of an operator involved in an accident. However, the situation was complicated when other employees voted to form a second union called the Busmen's Independent Association. (There were charges that the owners played a role in the formation of this second union, but these were never substantiated.) Since the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board would recognize only one bargaining unit, there had to be an election to determine which union would represent the employees. This was held on February 10, 1938, and in a very close vote the Amalgamated Association of Street Electric Railway and Motor Coach Employees of America was selected. The vote was 23 to 22. (In 1942 a new union was established which included all bus company employees, shop workers as well as drivers, and was called the Williamsport Transportation Company Employees' Association. Still later, the employees again joined the Amalgamated Association of Street Electric Railway and Motor Coach Employees of America.) Normal operations of the bus system were significantly disrupted during World War II.

In an effort to conserve fuel, the War Board forced the Company to eliminate many of the usual bus stops. The Company also had to implement many route changes in order to serve workers going to and from defense plants. At the same time, normal ridership was growing by leaps and bounds because gasoline and tires were being rationed. This increase in use put a lot of pressure on the bus system which was having difficulty in obtaining new buses and parts. Although Bush was able to purchase two new buses in 1942, they had to be used to offset crowding problems rather than to replace worn-out existing buses. These war-time buses lacked many frills such as chromium trim and handrails, and were painted in only two colors.

As the end of the war approached, restrictions on gasoline and bus service were lifted, and the bus system resumed its pre-war schedule and routes. Ten new buses were purchased. These had a seating capacity of 38 and were manufactured by the American Car & Foundry Company of Philadelphia. The cost was $14,000 each.

In 1947, Raymond E. Bohartz, the former taxi owner, established a new bus system to provide service to Trout Run and the Garden View area. To prevent competition with the Williamsport Company, City Council only allowed Mr. Bohartz to pick up passengers traveling into and leaving the city.

Over the next few years, the bus system continued to grow and play a vital role in the development of the City and surrounding areas. The City's planners considered it the life stream of the community and the only solution to the growing traffic problem. It was because of this problem that in March 1951 the City implemented a plan for one-way streets, forcing the bus system to relocate its downtown stops. The new stops were the south side of Third west of Court, the east side of Market south of Fourth, the north side of Fourth between Market and Court, and the west side of Market north of Fourth.

Privately Owned System Declines

By 1954, privately owned public transportation systems across the country were beginning to feel the pressure of competing with the automobile. As the number of cars and highways grew, attitudes toward mass transportation rapidly changed, especially in small urban areas such as Williamsport. Rising bus fares and reduced schedules added to the feeling that buses were no longer the most convenient mode of transportation.

In Williamsport, the bus company sought to improve profits without raising fares by cutting back on the least profitable service, that on Sundays and evenings. At the same time, Bush tried to extend service wherever or whenever it was requested. However, each expansion of service soon failed because of a lack of sustained ridership. Records show that in 1951 the Company lost $21,000, the first time a deficit was incurred under Bush's control.

When the deficits continued, the owners decided to sell. On March 19, 1955, Alvin Bush and officials of the Edwards Motor Transit Company agreed to a purchase price of $33,000. The Edwards Company was a well established intercity transit service operating out of Williamsport as part of the Lakes-to-Sea system. Although a separate entity was formed to operate the local bus system, management planned to make Joint purchases of gasoline, tires, and maintenance and other services, in that way keeping expenses to a minimum. The president of the newly incorporated Williamsport Bus Company was William H. Edwards.

Service under the new ownership began on June 1, 1955. Within five months, the company felt it necessary to raise the fare from 10 to 13. This proved to be the first of many fare increases. In 1956, although ridership on the system reached nearly, 2.9 million, the revenue per mile was only seven-tenths of a cent above the cost per mile. Then, over the next three years, ridership dropped by 40% to 1.6million in 1959. In 1957 there was another fare increase this one to 15.

G M C bus on west fourth street in nineteen sixty nine

In Montoursville, the Lycoming Auto Transit Company, which had been providing bus service since 1924, was also losing out to the private automobile. On June 1, 1960, the Williamsport Bus Company purchased the Montoursville line. Although ridership initially increased with the inclusion of this new service, the increase lasted for only two years.

(Picture: Several GMC buses on West Fourth Street in December 1969. They are typical of the buses used in Williamsport during the 1950's and 1960's.)

Meanwhile, the general exodus to the suburbs continued, suburban shopping malls began to appear, and because gasoline prices were so low, people were not reluctant to use their cars. To offset decreasing ridership, the bus company had to raise fares and cut services in order to remain financially viable.

Unfortunately, these moves only led to further ridership declines. By 1965, ridership on the Williamsport Bus Company bus system had dropped 56% in ten years from 2.9 million in 1956 to 1.26 million in 1965.

Public Takeover

The bus company's low profit margin prohibited the purchase of any new vehicles, and only an excellent maintenance program kept the old buses running. The worsening condition of the entire system prompted the Central Lycoming Planning Commission to evaluate the future of the company. Their studies indicated the need for a public takeover of the entire system to prevent its continued decline,and it was recommended that a Transportation Authority be formed to purchase and manage the system. One big advantage to having an Authority was that, under the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964, federal funds could be obtained to buy new buses.

Meanwhile, the Edwards Motor Transit Company was sold to Transcontinental Bus System, operator of Continental Trailways Eastern Lines, in late June 1967. Since this purchase did not include the Williamsport Bus Company, the Williamsport bus system could no longer share expenses. The cost of constructing a separate bus facility was estimated to be $200,000. In August 1967, the company announced that service would be reduced by about 40%.

This dismal news prompted local officials to begin discussing formation of a Transportation Authority that would take over bus service. The municipalities involved were the City of Williamsport, the Boroughs of South Williamsport, Montoursville, and Duboistown, and Loyalsock, Old Lycoming, Woodward, and Armstrong Townships. The talks stopped, however, when Old Lycoming and Woodward Townships refused to become part of the Authority.

Feeling that bus service was vital to the well-being of the City and surrounding areas, Mayor Carey of Williamsport continued on his own to try to find a way to keep the buses operating. Finally, on October 30, 1968, it was agreed that the City would purchase the Williamsport Bus Company for $75,000. The City immediately submitted capital grant applications to the federal Urban Mass Transportation Administration and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to obtain the necessary funds. When a grant for $251,286was received from UMTA on July 17, 1969, purchase of the bus company could be completed. On August 8, 1969, the City officially began operation of the buses under the newly created Bureau of Transportation.

With the rest of the money received from UMTA, plus some funds from the State, the Bureau bought four new buses in 1970 from the Twin Coach Company, the same company that built Williamsport's first buses back in 193 I. And in the summer of 1971, the Bureau completed construction of a new bus garage at 1500 West Third Street which included space for 15 buses, a maintenance area, plus the offices of the new City department.

But, even though by the end of 1972 the bus system had 12 new buses and a new headquarters, the City realized that the system could not be operated at a profit. Therefore, the City and the other municipalities served by the bus system entered into an agreement to cover any deficits that were incurred. It was clear to all concerned that the loss of public transportation would impede economic development and place undue hardships on the area's lower income and elderly citizens who depended on buses.

In an ongoing effort to improve bus service, the City took several additional steps over the next few years to make the system more efficient. In 1972, the Bureau's first transit manager was hired. Later several route changes were implemented to accommodate new industrial and commercial development and a new fare structure was implemented to reduce the cost of bus service for the steady user. But the biggest change came in September 1977 when the City introduced a new through-routed route system comprising eight individual routes. The effect of this change was astounding: ridership increased by 40% in the next four years. In 1979, ridership reached the one million mark for the first time in nine years. And in 1981, the Williamsport system could boast the biggest yearly percentage increase in ridership of any transit system in the state.

Unfortunately, this increased ridership also outstripped the service capacity of the Twin Coach buses which only seated 25 passenger In any case, these buses had proved to be very costly to maintain and as they aged were becoming increasingly unreliable. To replace them, the City purchased eight new General Motors RTS 11's. Each of these had a seating capacity of 35 and offered such features as wheelchair lift and a mechanism that lowered the front steps to make them more accessible to everyone. These buses were placed in service in June 1980.

Also in 1980, the bus system adopted a new logotype, and since then it has operated under two names: City Bus and the Williamsport Bureau of Transportation.

In 1983 seven new Neoplan buses were put into service, making the Williamsport fleet the most modern in the state. Thus, in the 50th year that buses have served as the area's principal mode of transportation, the bus system continues to provide improving service to the residents of Williamsport and surrounding communities. City Bus and the City of Williamsport are celebrating this anniversary on June 11, the exact day 50 years ago that buses replaced trolleys. But in doing so they commemorate not just a half century of bus service but a tradition of public intracity transportation that has flourished for 118 years.

Information and photographs were provided by the James V. Brown Library, Alvin C. Bush, the Grit, Andrew Grugan, Rudy Landon, Lycoming County Historical Society, the Sun-Gazette, and Naomi Woolever. All copyrights remain with the owners of the photographs. Used here by permission.

 
 

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