Exchange a horse for a mule and a car for a cart and you have public transit in 1882. These horse-drawn carts took travelers all the way from Howard and Market Streets to Case Avenue. All told, three twelve-passenger cars ran on light rails mounted to ties running over the muddy streets of Akron.
The year 1888 brought us street cars. Though none were named “Desire” (that we know of), they were a great improvement! The maiden voyage from West Market Street to Portage Path and back took a mere fifteen minutes.
Just one year later, the Northern Ohio Traction and Light Company began its operations. By 1901, it was operating more than 80 miles of tracks.
Not to be left behind, by streetcar or otherwise, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company started operations of its own. In 1910, Goodyear's own bus fleet could be seen on the streets. How could anyone miss it since it included Akron’s first double-decker bus?
This planted the seed for competition.
Enter the Jitney. Actually, enter 213 Jitneys, which were gasoline-powered touring sedans. By 1921, we operated more than 15 routes in the Akron area.
Remember the seed? The Northern Ohio Traction and Light Company knew just how to handle it. They purchased Goodyear’s fleet of buses along with several Jitney operators in 1922. Bus routes were expanded and by the end of the year, the fleet grew to an impressive 25.
Two years later, the fleet included 125 street car trolleys and 25 buses. The company requested a fare increase from five cents to seven cents. This is when the transit service came to a screeching halt. The franchise license for the Northern Ohio Traction and Light Company had expired, resulting in the stoppage of transit services. Akron finally granted the transit system a one-cent transfer charge and the transit system was able to remain in business.
Street cars on fixed rails were the backbone of Akron’s transit system. A conductor and motorman operated each street car until 1925, when the cars were converted to a one-man operation.
In 1926, it was discovered bigger isn’t always better. After the introduction of two six-wheel double-decker buses, buses were cut down to a single level after a trial period. The company then built its own foot-operated, treadled, rear-door bus in order to conquer the infamous hills of Akron.
The changes didn’t stop there. The Northern Ohio Traction and Light Company changed its name to the Northern Ohio Power and Light Company on April 17, 1926. Ridership was continuously growing, giving them reason to purchase 40-passenger twin coaches in 1928. The success of this purchase led them to also buy electric powered units.
The late 1920s signaled more than just the disappearance of the flapper look. The management of Akron’s public transit was assumed by the Akron Transportation Company. The new management changed the Mountain Line, which operated in Cuyahoga Falls, from street cars to buses in 1930.
Another change to occur in the early thirties was the price. Fare increased to ten cents, or four tokens for a quarter. A weekly pass was one dollar – see if you can find that at the dollar store these days!
In 1941, trackless trolley buses were introduced on the Grant Street line. World War II, however, prevented further expansion of trolley bus service.
Due to gasoline and tire rationing and ceased production of cars, ridership increased during wartime. Akron’s street cars transported over 50 million passengers, setting a transit record.
In the years following the war, the last streetcar operated and the electric trolley era came to an end. It was time for the transit industry to put on its game face. Weighing in at approximately 1,200 pounds was the competition, also known as the automobile.
The automobile industry was on a roll. Many passengers switched to personal transportation and transit ridership decreased by 10 percent or more each year. Public transit wasn’t giving up.
Between 1953 and 1959, Akron said "hello" to diesel buses and "goodbye" to trackless trolley buses. The goodbyes did not end there.
On April 1, 1969, when faced with a strike, the Akron Transportation Company closed its doors. Its equipment and properties were sold at a public auction and Akron became the largest U.S. city without public transportation.
Without endings, there could never be beginnings. The newly created Akron Metropolitan Regional Transit Authority (METRO) successfully negotiated fresh contracts with bus operators and mechanics 122 days after the strike began. The date was August 1, 1969.
METRO had a contract. What it did not have was money, buses, or headquarters. Fortunately, area industry representatives and the City of Akron provided $50,000 and METRO acquired 50 used buses. August 6, 1969 marked the restoration of Akron’s public transit service.
From 1969 to 1972, the cities of Akron, Barberton and Cuyahoga Falls underwrote METRO’s operational costs. In 1972, the voters supported METRO by easily passing a $1 million property tax levy to help finance transit operations. With this revenue base, METRO began constructing much-needed facilities. Between 1972 and 1985, METRO built two storage garages, a service building, a maintenance and administration facility and a service lane.
METRO expanded its retail strategy in 1975 with the introduction of SCAT, which is a personalized, prearranged, origin-to-destination transportation for older adults and persons with disabilities. Today, using customized vehicles and specially-trained drivers, METRO SCAT transports more than 390,000 passengers each year.
METRO realized it needed more riders and the City of Akron wanted more people downtown. With this mutual goal in mind, METRO obtained a $4.5 million federal grant in order to create a comfortable, pleasing, and safe surrounding for bus riders and pedestrians. The grant also funded improvements to transit operations and services.
In May of 1991, the Main Street Transitway was completed. The Transitway changed the look of downtown Akron. It offered extensive landscaping; wider-bricked sidewalks; new crosswalks; improved bus shelters; special waiting areas for riders and wider curbs for easier accessibility to passengers boarding buses.
As METRO saw the need to expand, it also knew it needed a dedicated source of funding. In November of 1990, Summit County voters passed a quarter percent sales tax supporting METRO.
It was with this dedicated sales tax that METRO was able to expand its services throughout Summit County. The tax levy ensured METRO’s financial stability, allowing METRO to concentrate on servicing its customers.
In March of 2008, voters approved a second quarter percent sales tax increase for METRO, allowing METRO to fulfill its customer-focused mission then and into the future.
January 18, 2009 marked the opening of METRO’s downtown Akron Transit Center, located at 631 S. Broadway Street. The Transit Center provides off-street transfers and houses METRO Customer Service representatives, restrooms, vending machines, and more in its enclosed waiting area.
On May 16, 2012, the Transit Center was renamed the Robert K. Pfaff Transit Center in honor of Executive Director Bob Pfaff, whose career highlight was seeing the Transit Center built. Mr. Pfaff began his 38-year career as a bus operator and served as executive director for 17 years. He passed away July 2, 2012.
In the summer of 2013, METRO became the third public transit system in the state of Ohio to acquire articulated buses. Six CNG articulated buses were added to the fleet to start service in August. The articulated buses are 60 feet long and can carry almost double the capacity of the average 40-foot bus. The articulated buses were specifically purchased for use on METRO's busiest routes, Route #1 West Market and Route #2 Arlington.
Who knows what will come up next!