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The Early Years at PAT

March 1, 1964 - 1972

Note: This is the second of a 6 part series that deals with the history of the Port Authority from the formation of PAT in 1956 through current.

March 1, 1964 marked the start of a new era in transportation in the Pittsburgh and Allegheny County area. The transit network in the County was coming under public ownership as a single entity which was not an easy task considering there were 33 Independent Operators involved in providing transit service to the area. This mix of Independents varied from a large company with hundreds of employees to a one man operation, each with different operating rules, fares, routes, equipment and facilities.

The first to be taken over by the Port Authority of Allegheny County, or more commonly called "PAT" (for Port Authority Transit), was the largest operator, Pittsburgh Railways Company (PRCo). PRCo operated a large network of streetcar routes as well as a rather large bus system and 1 inclined plane (Castle Shannon Incline). The rail system was a shell of the once sprawling network of street and private right-of-way trackage and the number of PCC streetcars left was 283 out of the once 666 PCC cars that once ran over the rails. The bus system did increase over the time PRCo operated but was still smaller then the rail system with only 219 passenger buses being acquired by PAT.

Although legally the PAT takeover of PRCo occurred at 12:01 am on March 1, 1964, the first bus to run under PAT's ownership left the Homewood Garage at 3:45 am. PAT also found out rather quickly about accidents as the first accident involving a bus under PAT's ownership occurred at 3:57 am. In some ways this symbolized that the consolidation of all the companies into one integrated system wasn't going to be easy.

Even though the acquisition of PRCo took place effective 12:01 am on March 1, 1964, any PRCo bus or streetcar on route at that time was still under PRCo control. Even when PAT's first bus started out of the garage, there were still some buses and streetcars out on the road that were still under PRCo ownership which were sent out prior to 12:01 am running with its sister units that were under PAT control.

Click for larger imageThe remaining acquisitions if the Independent Operators were spread out so that operational issues could be addressed as each company was taken under PAT's control. The majority of the acquisitions of the Independent Operators was done before the end of March. These were the companies that had quickly agreed to the terms of the negotiations regarding PAT's acquisition of their particular company. There were still 9 companies left to acquire with some disputing the values of the proposed settlement or still reviewing the settlement proposal. One company, quite literally, was overlooked as it was so small and they had to inquire as to when they would be taken over.

During the first 2 months of operation, there wasn't a noticeable change in operations as the finishing touches were being put on a system-wide route renumbering structure, a new system-wide fare structure and uniform schedules, work rules and union contract. The most noticeable change was a sticker on each bus and streetcar stating "Port Authority of Allegheny County - Owner and Operator". Some of the newly acquired buses also started appearing on routes they never ran on prior to takeover as PAT was starting to shuffle equipment around.

May 1, 1964 saw the first major improvement to transit in the County as 150 new air conditioned buses were placed into service. The 100 GM TDH5303's and 50 GM TDH4518's were introduced to residents with a parade of buses down Fifth Avenue in Downtown. From there the buses were sent to various garages around the County to be immediately placed into revenue service. These new buses allowed PAT to retire the worst of the acquired equipment, some of which was barely operational.

A uniform County-wide route renumbering system was introduced on May 6. This numbering system used the concept of radial trunk corridors where each main corridor was numbered and each route within that corridor was given a letter designation (ex 16B would be the 16 corridor and the B route). This renumbering was needed to help give the system a uniform appearance and make the placement of routes make sense. In many other cities, you could have a 16 and 46 route running in the same area but with this plan, riders would always know that any route starting in 16 would serve the North Side and Ohio Valley area and the 46 routes would serve the South Hills.

Click for larger imageA new County-Wide Uniform Fare Plan was implemented on August 30, 1964. This, like the route renumbering plan, was a primary ingredient in creating a unified appearance and to make fare collection easier but tended to be rather complicated. Again this was done in a radial fashion from Downtown Pittsburgh. There were 15 zones in the original plan not including the always confusing overlap Zone 1A. With each zone, except the overlap zone, requiring an additional zone fare. The base fare was set at 30 cents with through and express routes set at a nickel more. Zone charges were set at a nickel for each zone passed through. If you rode in an outlying zone only, the fare was ten cents cheaper. There was also the overlap Zone 1A which had a fare of 30 cents but from there you could ride to Zone 3 or to Downtown Pittsburgh for the 30 cent Zone 1 fare (if you rode to zone 3 from Zone 1, it would cost 40 cents).

Also adopted in the Fare Plan was the collection of these fares as well as monthly and weekly permits. Pay enter for inbound and pay leave for outbound trips. Fare receipts were issued to riders that boarded outside of Zone 1 to indicate where they boarded outbound or what fare was paid inbound. The permits required a 10 cent cash drop but would save frequent riders money.

Initially the operators made change for riders. This was a time honored practice in transit at the time but many systems, as well as the transit union, were already trying to find alternatives to this practice due to the increase in robberies. PAT had plans for an exact fare structure to be implemented on August 1, 1968 but a robbery where an operator was killed forced PAT to act immediately and the plan was in place on July 23, 1968, a week earlier than originally announced.

Click for larger imageA standard schedule style was also being initiated by 1965 utilizing the existing schedule design and scheduling method that Community Transit Service first came up with. Of all the initial changes, this was perhaps the most important and significant change. The previous independent operators had a myriad of schedule types and methods which PAT initially adopted until it found a design and method that worked and could be understood easily by the public.

PAT was one of the first beneficiaries of the newly created Federal legislation which made financial aid available to public transit systems. This legislation was approved in September of 1964 and before the month was over, PAT obtained an initial grant of $5,567,780 which was to be used for the purchase of an additional 180 buses (1800, 2100, 2200-2234 series) as well as 2 new garages to start the consolidation of the numerous and smaller independent garages. This grant required Allegheny County to put up a 1/3 matching grant. Pennsylvania followed suit in the summer of 1965 with a statewide transit aid program which allowed the County to reduce its amount of the matching grant.

Known as Phase I of the Capital Improvement Program, the initial transit funding from both Federal and State sources allowed PAT to proceed faster than planned to modernize transit in the County. The Capital Improvement Program was a 5 part plan with new buses taking 3 of the phases. Ross Division (1968) and Collier Division (1969) were opened under Phase I.

Click for larger imagePhase II immediately followed in 1966 with a 200 bus order (1100, 1970-1979, 2250-2264, 2300 series) as well as drawing up plans for 3 additional new garages and a new main shop/administration building. A few additional buses came into the fleet between Phase II and Phase III. 2 in 1967 (2265-2266) which were experimental for PAT in testing some options for the 1971 bus order and 8 in 1970 (1980-1987) to replace suburban coaches destroyed in the Tarentum Garage fire. West Mifflin Division was opened under Phase II in 1969.

Click for larger imagePhase III saw the addition of 200 more buses (2400 & 2500, 1910-1924 series) in November of 1971. The 2400 & 2500 series transit buses featured an 8 cylinder engine which drastically improved service as the other transit buses PAT had purchased had 6 cylinder engines (the only engine available in a transit coach at the time) and many had difficulty with the hilly terrain. Phase III also included the building and opening of the Harmar Division. Phase IV was utilized for the East Liberty Division in 1972 and Phase V was used for the main shop/administration building in Manchester during 1973.

The new garages were an important part of PAT's long range plan. Having many small garages spread out throughout the County only lent itself to increased costs and varying degrees of maintenance. The Independent garages acquired varied from ancient to old and also varied between storage only to heavy maintenance facilities. Having a smaller network of larger garages that were strategically placed and were designed for all aspects of operation would minimize costs. Many of the garages built by PAT also earned design awards from the utilization of space to the appearance of the structure.

The PAT Early Action Program (EAP) was another primary event in PAT's early history. This program was different than the Capital Improvement Program. The EAP was set up to plan and implement the start of a long range 60 mile rapid transit plan. Key to the EAP was the Westinghouse Electric Company's automated Transit Expressway Revenue Line (TERL) or as more commonly called, Skybus. The TERL was developed by Westinghouse in 1961 and testing began in 1965.

Click for larger imageSkybus was the most controversial part of the EAP and perhaps the most controversial single item of anything in PAT's entire history. An experimental and unproven rapid transit concept was to have replaced the remaining former interurban trolley lines in the South Hills. PAT's Skybus project resulted in lawsuits from the the Mayor of Pittsburgh as well as the Allegheny County Commissioners who opposed the project in the 1970's. These lawsuits ultimately led to the demise of Skybus and forced PAT to come up with a new and more accepted method of rapid transit.

During this period, PAT acquired the ownership of the long abandoned Wabash Tunnel. This tunnel was to be used for Skybus and was remodeled to Skybus specifications. It was never used for Skybus however and later was used to store some surplus buses. The reason for choosing the Wabash Tunnel over the existing Mt. Washington Trolley Tunnel was that the Wabash Tunnel was elevated where the trolley tunnel was at road level and PAT planned on utilizing the trolley tunnel as a bus tunnel as part of the South Busway project.

The streetcar network PAT inherited from PRCo, quite literally, looked a mess but was still very viable in terms of ridership. As was mentioned in Part 1 of this history, PAT very much wanted to dispose of the rail system due to its dilapidated condition. PAT did, however, repaint some of the better condition trolleys into its gray/red/white livery along with a minor reconditioning of the car itself. Some rail to bus replacements were done in one stage while others, such as the East End routes, used weekend bus substitution to get the trolley riders used to the buses. While the lines that went would have been cut anyway, some lines such as lines that used the 6th, 7th and 9th Street Bridges had to be eliminated for urban redevelopment. By 1970, it was decided to retain a portion of the existing South Hills trolley routes that were mostly on private right of ways and a more comprehensive car and route rehabilitation was initiated. The 35 Library line was the line to be spared as the 36 Drake and 42/38 Mt. Lebanon - Beechview line would have Skybus running over most of its route.

PAT, even to this day, will experiment with most anything offered up for it to test. This was immediately seen with the Skybus project but PAT also experimented with a few things for GM. One experiment involved the 2 coaches delivered in 1967 (2265-2266). Up until this point, GM new look transit coaches came only with a 6V-71 engine (suburbans with a manual transmission could have an 8V-71). 2265-2266 were the first delivered with a 8V-71 engine to test a new transmission that Allison (GM's transmission division) developed in actual service as well as for PAT to test an 8V-71 for an upcoming 185 bus order. Although these buses came from GM with a 6V-71 installed, they were immediately sent from GM's Pontiac Michigan factory to Allison's facility in Indiana where the new engine and transmission combination were installed.

These buses quickly showed that the new transmission would work well and GM then started to offer the 8 cylinder option in transit coaches to all customers with San Diego being the first to receive the first order of TDH5303's with an 8 cylinder engine. The reason for the new transmission being needed was that the power output of the 8 cylinders was to much for the existing V-Drive transmissions. These new transmissions were a new design of the Super-V transmission which were an optional transmission that could be ordered for the 6V-71 engine (PAT never ordered the Super-V on any of its coaches). The transmissions PAT tested and what was offered by GM several months later varied some due to some improvements learned from the tests but the testing led to major advances in the transit industry by allowing more power in the buses to handle hills and crush loads. These two buses were later converted back to 6V-71 engines by PAT for standardization reasons in 1971.

Another experiment involved the 1800 series coaches which were the first buses of GM's light duty transit line what were air conditioned. These coaches left GM without A/C and were shipped to a Thermo-King facility for the installation of the A/C unit. These coaches were to be tested in service by PAT and the outcome of the tests resulted in the offering of the TDH3502A line of coaches.

Some of the history of the early years has been lost to time. One such item is the acquisition of PAT 1959. This coach was a GM Engineering bus that was a 1962 TDH5301 which was converted to the TDH5303 prototype. To date, no data has been located to explain why PAT purchased this lone coach in December of 1964. It was an oddball in the fleet due to its rear push doors and by this point, the TDH5303 production at GM was well underway by 2 years so it wasn't for testing. 1959 served most of its life at PAT running out of the Tarentum and Harmar garages. It was scrapped around 1980.

Click for larger imageCharters and tours were also an important part of PAT's early years. While most were local, some did go across the state. PAT was restricted by law from operating outside of Pennsylvania. With the independent acquisitions, PAT also acquired many charter rights which were used to their advantage. The 1900 series suburban coaches were purchased for charters and tours as well as express runs. If it wasn't for the charter/tour operations, it is doubtful that the 1900 series suburbans would have been purchased. PAT did inherit some suburban buses from the independents (both old look and new looks) which it also used in the charter/tour operations. It's a well known fact that the suburbans showed up on more than just the longer express runs. Many times these coaches would show up on heavy haul routes such as the 16B Brighton and feeder routes like those run out of McKeesport. City transit buses were also used on some local charters and tours.

It should be noted about the destination signage of this era. When PAT initially began planning its operations, it was decided that split signs should be used to help cut down on the number of signs needed as well as allow more detailed information on where the route was going and eliminate many of the auxiliary cardboard window signs. The curb side sign was the main route with the driver side sign being used for the routes final destination and/or routing. This lasted about 2 years as the 1966 order all came with single full size signs. Part of the problem was that no two operators had the driver side sign up the same way on the same route. A blank driver side sign or the infamous "COACH" reading were usually what was displayed. Some routes could have 10 or more possible reading combinations. The independent new look coaches acquired in 1964 were converted to split signs, only to have most of them converted back to full size signs in the 70's.

Auxiliary signs were also widely used, even with the split sign buses, as the older buses acquired didn't have their signs immediately replaced. As Pittsburghers were very used to auxiliary signs from the PRCo days, these were used to convey the additional route information instead of using the split sign readings. The 1964 and 1965 orders were also delivered with school bus readings but these were never used and the "SCHOOL" wording was blacked out on the curb side while the "BUS" reading remained intact on the drivers side. It is also interesting to note that when the East End trolley routes were converted to bus operations, the route number was not re-designated into the PAT numbering plan but retained its original PRCo trolley route number for well over 10 years (they eventually were changed in 1982).

Click for larger imageThe buses ordered and those repainted in 1964 also saw the use of small fleet numbers instead of the larger numbers. The small numbers were slowly replaced over many years but some of the 1964 buses being retired in the 1980's still retained the smaller numbers. These small numbers were somewhat unpopular with all, employees, riders and fans a like due to making it difficult to see what bus it was.

PAT also acquired the remaining 3 inclines in the Pittsburgh area. The Duquesne Incline was saved from closure due to the Society for the Preservation of the Duquesne Heights Incline being formed and negotiating a deal with PAT to lease the incline for a dollar a year. The Castle Shannon Incline, which was rather unique for having a curve, was closed on June 21, 1964 after being acquired from PRCo. The Monongahela Incline continued to be operated as it was the main route down from Mt. Washington for many residents and could be operated economically in a transit authority setting.

On March 30, 1970, PAT implemented replacement bus service for some of the Gradison Auto Bus Company routes that were abandoned within Allegheny County. This company was not taken over by PAT in 1964 as the majority of its routes were outside of Allegheny County. When PAT took over the service on the routes, they did so on a 6 month trial basis to see how the ridership would be. The 26E & 26F routes became permanent as ridership was sufficient to warrant continued operation.

The year 1970 also saw the first of many PAT Park-N-Ride lots being established on March 30th, Federal approval of PAT's Early Action Plan on June 10th and Three Rivers Stadium service being introduced in July. All were important to PAT's plans to continue to improve the transit system.

PAT, however, continued to see reduced ridership on the entire system from its takeover in 1964 through 1971 even with the major improvements to the system it had made. A fare increase from 30 cents to 35 cents on January 1, 1969 sent ridership dropping rapidly. Within 2 years the ridership dropped low enough that PAT was forced to raise fares again on April 12, 1971 to 40 cents in order to get enough money to continue operating. At this time PAT also eliminated all weekly and monthly permits and Sunday passes. The result was an extremely rapid decrease in ridership to the point that PAT was considering major route cuts in order to continue operating the system. The weekly and monthly permits and Sunday passes were re-established on December 12, 1971.

PAT re-organized its internal structure on June 21, 1971. This date actually was the start of the next era at PAT but as it took a while for the changes to happen from this move, most people view that the next era started in 1972. The re-organization was to attempt to streamline PAT's operation and develop a strategy to win back the ridership it had lost over the past several years. Due to the size of the task at hand, it took a while to come up with an effective strategy but the new strategy was to pay off over the next couple of years as PAT entered the MOD era of operations.

| The Formation | The Early Years | The MOD Years | The 80's Era | The 90's Era | The Gold Era |

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This page was updated on September 15, 2006

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