How We Got Here
We'd rather look toward the future than focus on the past, but we always take time to appreciate the history and foundation that we build on today. Thank you, Champaign-Urbana-Savoy!
Buses are Born
Buses first appeared on the streets of Champaign-Urbana. (The first motorized bus was made in 1895, so we weren't too far behind the curve.) The Illinois Motor Transit Company introduced the local service, which only lasted from February to December of 1901.
And They Evolve
Illinois Power & Light Company buses were used in conjunction with streetcars. This saved the expense of laying rails and paving streets in some parts of our Twin Cities. Best of all, it allowed transit to go wherever the streets were located.
City Lines is Born
National City Bus Lines, a subsidiary of General Motors, bought the trolley lines from Illinois Power & Light Company for $53,000. Within a month, all trolley operations were ceased and buses became the predominant mode of public transportation in Champaign-Urbana. National City Lines operated the system under the name Champaign-Urbana City Lines for the next 30 years.
Ridership of City Lines peaked at one million passengers in 1958 before a gradual decline 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.
Voters Create the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District
A request was made to the Illinois Commerce Commission by 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. MTD was born! The first Director, Thomas Evans, was hired for $16,000 a year.
MTD Board of Trustees is Seated
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, Helen Smith, Karl Tauber (chairman), Lachlan Blair, and James Benefiel. Their first meeting was held the following Friday at the Bank of Illinois.
30 Cent Fares
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 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.
Buses On Parade
Ten of the new GM buses were put on public display 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 Street to downtown Champaign, and on to West Side Park, where the buses were put on display.
Cue the Generic Bus Jingle
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 striped 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. The Shop and Ride and the Generic Bus could show up on any route at any time.
And They Walked 3 Miles Uphill In the Snow
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. After five years, two weeks of vacation were offered. The hourly rate was $2.47.
There Was No 22 Illini (Yet)
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. MTD has enjoyed a close working relationship with the University of Illinois since.
Grids & Loops
On March 1, 1973, James Mansbridge was named Managing Director of MTD. 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 in August 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 in December 1973, and the grid system would later be discontinued in favor of the old loop system.
The 1973 Oil Crisis
In the early 1970s, the District faced the same problem facing the rest of the car-driving public—a 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.
A Time of Change
C Lynn Watson served as Interim Director from the time Mansbridge resigned until January 25, 1974, when 25-year-old William (Bill) Volk took over as Managing Director of MTD. 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. The public welcomed the change, resulting in a 10% increase in ridership.
MTD's First Female Operator
In his first year at MTD, Volk oversaw the hiring of MTD's first female operator, Gayle Novak. The year 1974 also saw the creation of MTD's iconic former logo. Based on the international symbol for bus stops, the logo entered use in October 1974.
Home Sweet Home
On March 29, 1974, the architecture firm of Berger and Kelly Associates presented plans for a new garage/office facility to be built at 801 E. University, Urbana. The chosen site was the former location of the Big 4 Roundhouse. After scaling back plans and making a few modifications, the Board approved a final draft of the plans on September 20, 1974. The groundbreaking took place February 18, 1975, and the project was completed for use on November 1, 1975. A public open house was held later on April 25, 1976.
Awards & Honors
In 1984, MTD entered the national spotlight when USA Today named us the seventh best transportation system in America. In 1986 and 1994, the District also received the American Public Transit Association (APTA) Outstanding Achievement Award. And in 1986, our reputation for excellence went international, when the Swedish Public Transportation Association named Champaign-Urbana one of its eight "Chosen Cities."
Mobility for All
MTD became the first system in the nation to become 100% lift-equipped and accessible to people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) would become law four years later in 1990.
By a Student Vote, MTD Becomes Illinois' Campus Transportation System
The relationship between the District and the University of Illinois continued to grow. In April of 1989, Illinois students passed a referendum establishing a one-year trial, during which MTD would serve as the campus transportation provider. The project proved to be a immense success and continues to this day.
MTD became the first system in the U.S. to order low-floor buses, making boarding safer and improving access for the elderly and people with disabilities. Low-floor buses also improve our system's efficiency, making boardings and alightings go more quickly and reducing the amount of time spent at each stop.
Illinois Terminal Opens
MTD reached another important milestone with the completion of Illinois Terminal, providing MTD with an enclosed transfer station and additional income from the leasing of office space. Illinois Terminal has been fully leased and revenue-neutral since its opening in 1999.
Moving 500 Yards to the East
MTD's Administrative and Operations Staff moved out of the original MTD facility at 801 E. University, Urbana, and into our current Administration Building at 1101 E. University, Urbana.
DASH Pass Becomes Available
MTD begins offering fare-free rides to disabled individuals and senior citizens with our DASH Pass.
Ahead of the Curve
MTD launches a real-time information system for riders, becoming one of the first systems in the U.S. to provide these tools to our passengers. The real-time information system has evolved since then, and is the basis for the passenger tools found on mtd.org today.
MTD purchases our first diesel-electric hybrid buses. Less than 10 years later, MTD's fleet is now over 80% hybrid.
Here Comes the Sun
MTD installs a 1,200 panel, 297-kilowatt solar array at our Maintenance Facility at 803 E. University, Urbana. The solar array provides approximately 20% of the power used by the Maintenance Facility & Bus Garage.
Helping the Earth & Our Community Thrive
MTD’s Maintenance Facility received its Environmental & Sustainability Management System ISO 14001 certification in 2014. Every three years, we are recertified to ensure we continue working toward improving our practices and policies to have the least amount of impact on our environment possible. Today, our Administration Facility and Illinois Terminal have achieved certification as well.
Which Brings Us to Now
MTD's current Managing Director & CEO, Karl Gnadt, was chosen as Bill Volk's successor upon Volk's retirement in 2014. Gnadt had served nearly 20 years as MTD's Director of Market Development after graduating from Indiana University in 1990 with a B.S. in Public Administration. He began his career in transit leadership as Danville (IL) Mass Transit's Director from 1991 to 1995.
MTD was awarded a $15.7 million Federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to complete the Multimodal Corridor Enhancement (MCORE) project in partnership with the City of Champaign, City of Urbana, and University of Illinois. MCORE improves key corridors to create a safer and more accessible multi-modal network. Construction began on Green Street in spring 2017.
Building On Our History
MTD's Maintenance Facility expansion project is completed and included tearing down the District's second home at 801 E. University in Urbana.
Room for All
MTD completes construction of a new CDL Training Facility at 1201 E. University, Urbana, with markings for buses, firetrucks, bicycles, and tractor trailers to be trained on at the same facility. MTD Operators begin CDL training at this location in early 2018. In mid-2018, a sidewalk is constructed that links the Maintenance Facility & Bus Garage, the Administrative Building, and the CDL Training facility to create a pedestrian-friendly MTD campus.
Serving Those Who Served
MTD begins offering fare-free rides to Veterans on January 2, 2018 with our 3-year Veteran Pass.
Zero Emission Buses
MTD became the first in the nation to commercially order 60' articulated hydrogen fuel cell buses and began the process to update the infrastructure and technology needed to operate them.