Mass Transit – 1950’s to present
By Cynthia Sommer
The diesel buses that first appeared in the city around 1950 are what most citizens associate with mass transit in Milwaukee. Actually, the transit system has been evolving regularly due to economic fluctuations, the Great Depression, two World Wars, the development of technologies and the growth of the City. Transportation vehicles have changed in Milwaukee from the horse-drawn streetcar (1860-1894) to the electric streetcar (1890-1958), the gasoline buses (1920-1967), the electric trackless trolley (1936-1967) and our currently used diesel bus (1950-present). The rapid change to buses from electric streetcars and electric trackless trolley cars was driven by the separation of transit operation in 1952 from the electric utility and the sale to a private company, Milwaukee and Suburban Transportation Corporation.
The new transit company purchased 40 new, 40 ft. long, non-air-conditioned busses from General Motors in 1953. The east side, however, still had a mix of transportation vehicles during this transition that included diesel buses used for the Capitol Ave. route (#62) and the Wisconsin-Prospect Downer route (#30); the electric trackless trolley buses were used for the majority of the Oakland Ave. (#15; now green line), Center St. (#22) and North Ave. (#21) routes. These trackless trolley routes were replaced by diesel buses in 1962 and the first Freeway Flyer was added in 1964. The purchase by Milwaukee County in 1975 of the privately owned transit company sustained the existence of a City transit system and with additional investments from 1970’s to early 1990’s Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) became a nationally recognized, award winning transit system.
The growth of the University Wisconsin at Milwaukee (UWM) during the 1970-80’s, as primarily a commuter campus, drove the need for more transit routes and connections in our area. Newly created U-Bus routes were added and established routes were extended to connect students and employees directly with the UWM campus. The Capital Avenue (#62 – Red Line), North Avenue (#21), Burleigh (#60) and Center St. (#22) routes now all came to the UWM campus. Special U-Bus routes were added that included the Holt-College (#40U), State Fair-Whitnall (#44U) routes and more recently the Brown Deer (#49U) route. Today there are six local bus routes and three express bus routes servicing our neighborhood that connect us to jobs and school, shopping at the Bayshore Town Center, Mayfair Mall and the Shops of Grand Avenue or various entertainment venues.
MCTS has continued to provide innovative solutions such as clean diesel, low floor buses, bike racks, commuter value pass partnerships between employer and employee and, most recently, direct access to the airport on the new green line. However, the decrease in funding in the 2000’s, recent significant state budget cuts, and the fact that the transit system is one of last in the country to not have dedicated funding has created more than great challenges. MCTS needs our help and support. The viability of the neighborhood and the city require that a viable transit system exists now and in the future.