History METRO Transit Providing Central Oklahoma Transportation

History – Early 1900s

First of all, passengers can consult embark bus schedule.

During the 1900’s public transportation in Oklahoma City received much needed attention. This was due to four separate housing additions being developed between NW 10th and NW 23rd. The developments were a great distance from the downtown business district, during a time when most people walked to work.

A solution surfaced in 1902 when Anton Classen, Charles Colcord, Henry Overholser and John Shartel obtained the first franchise in Oklahoma City for a streetcar system. On January 30, 1902 the Metropolitan Railway began with only two lines; the “University Line” (Blue Line) and “Maywood Line” (Red Line). Within three years 16 miles of track had been laid.

In 1904, the Metropolitan Railway was renamed as the City Railway Company. It was renamed again in 1907 as the Oklahoma Railway Company (ORC). Classen was ORC’s first president, and Shartel was the first vice president.

Oklahoma City’s population grew from an estimated 14,000 in 1903 to 64,205 in 1910. It was during this period of growth that Classen and Shartel realized the need to facilitate recreation in Oklahoma City. Lines were extended to reach the OKC Fairgrounds, Delmar Gardens and Wheeler Park (home of the city’s first zoo and baseball park). By 1906, the system had moved nearly 4 million riders!

In 1908 Classen and Shartel built a power plant in the Bell Isle addition on the fringes of the city. The power plant was needed to operate the trolleys after a shortage of electricity forced the superintendent of the power company to decide between lights and trolleys.

History – From Interurbans to Bus Service

Larger trolleys, known as the Interurbans, began serving areas outside the metro in 1910, when the Capitol Hill Line was extended to Moore (9 miles south of the city). The second extension for the Interurbans was when 29 miles of track were completed to reach El Reno. Just north of Oklahoma City, the Britton Line was extended in 1912 through barren land all the way to Edmond (15 miles north), the site of the first teachers’ college (now known as the University of Central Oklahoma). By the end of 1912, the company’s lines totaled 103 miles. The fleet included 95 passenger cars, two electric locomotives, and 22 freight and dump cars.

The last two interurban lines were added to Norman and Guthrie in 1913 and 1916. The Norman interurban line was the busiest by far and remained so until the end of the interurban lines.

More than 50 cars were purchased between 1913 and 1918, and by this time the system totaled more than 138.2 miles. Despite the addition of new streetcars, service was slow and traffic congestion hindered streetcar performance. The affordability of the automobile caused public transportation to lose its appeal. Ridership was down and ORC had drained its resources by the end of the construction era.

The ORC wanted to raise fares to $0.10, but Oklahoma City Mayor Cargill wouldn’t allow such an increase as he threatened to put in a bus service. Fares were raised from $0.05 to only $0.08. The ORC soon went into debt totaling over 6 million dollars.

ORC filed for reorganization under the bankruptcy act in July 1939.

With the outbreak of World War II, Oklahoma became the sight of several military installations, the largest of which was Tinker Field. Many military families settled in Norman, increasing the importance of the Norman Interurban Line. This seemed to be the lifesaver of ORC. As ridership increased due to civilian fuel conservation, the interurban was back in business. ORC revenue increased nearly eight times during this era. However, at the end of the war revenues declined.

In 1945, the Oklahoma Transportation Company took over the mangament of ORC. However, the loss of ridership and mounting debt brought an end to the interurban services in November 1946. It was agreed that the use of an all bus system was the best economic approach to providing public transportation. So by the 1950s, 95 buses were placed in service.

In time, due to the construction of the interstate highway system and government policies that fueled suburban growth the use of public transportation decreased. Leading to the announcement in 1965 that the Oklahoma Transportation Company would stop providing public transit services.

History – COTPA and MassTrans

The City Council of Oklahoma City established Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority (COTPA) on February 1, 1966 in order to continue the needed public service. COTPA, started using a public fund, started with a few buses rented from the Oklahoma Transportation Company. Despite the takeover, ridership and revenues continued to head downward.

Recognizing public transportation was an important part of the rebuilding of cities, the federal government began two programs. The Capital Funding program, which allowed for 80% of capital purchases to be paid by federal grants; and the Operating Assistance Program, which allowed 50% of operating costs to be paid for by federal grants. These two programs allowed the transit system to keep riding fares low and expand service at the same time.

In 1975, COTPA approved the renaming of the bus system to MassTrans.

Throughout the remainder of the 70s, the company began recording ridership numbers and implementing new programs such as Share-a-Fare and Carpool Matching.

During the 80s, the company added Supplemental Transportations for the Elderly and Handicapped Persons (STEP), and Handi-Trans, a door-to-door service for the mobility impaired.

In 1989, COTPA was reorganized and the City established the Transit Services department providing senior management for COTPA through an inter-local operating agreement that continues today. That same year COTPA purchased Union Station. The purchase was made possible by a grant through the Urban Mass Transportation Administration and a donation by Liberty Bank and Trust Company of Oklahoma City. The building houses the administrative offices of COTPA.

History – METRO Transit

In 1992, COTPA adopted the brand name METRO Transit.

In 1996, COTPA’s operations and maintenance facility was relocated to 2000 S May in order to make way for the Bricktown Ballpark. Then in the late 90s the transit center was moved to make the construction of the Ford Center possible. The transit center’s temporary site was across from the Oklahoma County Jail at Shartel and Couch.

The City’s first Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) project made it possible to purchase The Oklahoma Spirit Trolleys in 1999. The trolleys were predominately created to provide transportation links to the expanding cultural and convention facilities in the downtown area.

In 2003 METRO Transit extended operation hours, improved bus frequencies, and began construction on a new Downtown Transit Center at NW 5th & Hudson. Construction of the new facility meant passengers would no longer have to wait for their buses in the elements on a barren lot.

The City of Edmond and the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) saw a need to provide public transportation as the growing community caused traffic congestion to increase. METRO Transit contracted with Edmond to provide “The Eddy” trolley service in March 2003. Soon after, the Broncho Bus was added to provide additional service around UCO. METRO Transit’s contract with Edmond and UCO expired in July 2009.

COTPA’s 2005 Fixed Guideway Study identified the need for “Enhanced Bus Service”, bus service more frequent than what we have today. The study also recommended futuristic guideway systems such as a Downtown Streetcar, CRT (Commuter Rail Transit), BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) and HOV (Highway high occupancy vehicle) lanes. All of these transportation solutions would improve connections among greater Oklahoma City’s growth centers, help spur economic development, improve mobility and health, expand transportation options and improve air quality.

In 2009 the City renamed the Transit Services Department to the Public Transportation and Parking Department to more clearly identify the department’s responsibilities. This department manages over 50% of downtown parking and owns and manages the Oklahoma River Cruises.