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.