As the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District gears up to celebrate its 50th year of service, riders will notice some changes, including but not limited to: a new logo and slogan (a switch from “Gotta Get There” to “Thrive”), slight changes to routes, and re-designed bus stop signs. Even the buses themselves are sporting a spiffy makeover! As a daily MTD rider, I enjoyed exploring the history of the transportation system I utilize daily.
C-U MTD was officially born in November 1970, when a referendum to establish a mass transit district was held. A total of 8,713 community members cast their votes, and with 6,765 'yes' votes, the referendum passed easily. When the operation began in 1971, fares cost 30 cents. These days (in non-pandemic times), a trip costs $1 (although free or discounted rides are available to many people, including veterans, senior citizens, individuals with disabilities, and students/staff at the University of Illinois who present a valid i-card upon boarding). Using an inflation calculator, I learned that 30c in 1971 would equate to $1.93 in buying power today. This certainly makes me feel fortunate to have a transportation option that has remained incredibly affordable.
It is fun to look back on the physical changes the buses have undergone over the last five decades. Interestingly, when the buses made their debut, they were painted in the colors designating their routes. There have even been a few special edition members of the fleet over the years - for example, a Christmas bus, painted with red and white stripes, and a spooky Halloween bus. Pictured is MTD's Halloween bus in 1977 (painted by students at Holy Cross School), which offered free rides to passengers in costume.
In addition to the buses' exteriors evolving, so too has the technology that keeps them running. In 2009, MTD introduced its first diesel-electric hybrid buses. Now, the fleet is impressively over 92% hybrid. Other measures to promote environmental sustainability include a 1,200 panel, 297-kilowatt solar array at MTD's maintenance facility.
If we look back twenty years to the front cover of the schedule book from 2000 (pictured below) or even earlier to 1972 maps (such as the White line, also pictured below), a few routes no longer ring a bell. While routes such as the 15 Link, the 21 Quad (a campus staple when I was a student), and the White line are defunct, the colorful array of MTD routes is ever-expanding. In more recent years, riders have been introduced to routes like the Teal, the Lime, the Pink, and the Raven. The 114 buses that make up the fleet serve Champaign, Urbana, Savoy, and the Campustown area at regular intervals.
MTD service understandably looks very different these days amidst a pandemic. To keep passengers safe, a number of steps have been taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Masks are strongly encouraged on board, fares have been eliminated for the moment to reduce unnecessary contact, buses are sanitized frequently, and longer buses are being deployed to allow for social distancing. Considering MTD's extreme caution, flexibility, and dedication to keeping the community running, their new logo of "Thrive" seems very apt.
- Carly Smith