Click on the picture to see a slideshow of TARC buses through the years.

TARC History and Union Station

Public transit has existed in Louisville in some form since 1923, when a model 50 White bus with yellow wheels rolled out onto the streets of Louisville. Louisville’s first public bus was operated by Kentucky Carriers, Inc., which was owned by the Louisville Railway Company, a firm that traced its history back to the Civil War.

During the 1960s, declining patronage, increasing expenses and decreasing profits led the Louisville Transit Company (formerly the Louisville Railway Company), to seek federal funding to help operate the city’s transit system — although subsidies back then weren’t available to private companies offering services.

The Transit Authority of River City was created in 1971 after 1970 legislation authorized city and county governments to operate mass-transit systems using local funding. The Louisville Transit Company had long operated mass transit lines in Louisville, converted from electric trolleys to diesel buses in the late 1940s, and changing its name from the Louisville Railway Company in 1947.

Following a trend seen in cities across America, the company had seen annual ridership decline from 84 million in 1920 to 14 million in 1970. The ridership was no longer enough to cover operating expenses and in 1971 it posted its first-ever loss. In 1972 the company announced it would cease operations on September 1, 1974.

The local government began subsidizing fares in July 1973, but this was not enough to make Louisville Transit Company profitable. At about the same time, Bridge Transit Co., which provided mass transit between Louisville and Jeffersonville, ceased operations due to lack of revenue, clearly setting the stage for a metropolitan area without any private mass transit companies.

In 1974, voters approved a referendum allowing for an increased occupational tax to fund mass transit. Combined with a federal grant, this was enough for TARC to purchase the Louisville Transit Company, buy new buses, reduce fares, and extend new service lines. TARC bought the remaining mass transit companies in the area: Blue Motor Coach Lines (which served outlying areas) in 1976, and the Daisy Line (connecting New Albany and Louisville) in 1983.

TARC began slowly branching out from Jefferson County, Ky., in the early 1980s. In 1980, the Oldham County Express to Peewee Valley, Crestwood, Buckner and LaGrange, was established. Also in 1983, TARC began express bus service to Mount Washington and Shepherdsville in Bullitt County, which was a longer version of a one-time interurban route.

In 1993, TARC experimented with a "water taxi" service connecting the Belle of Louisville wharf and Towboat Annie's Restaurant in Jeffersonville. During the 1990s and early 2000s, TARC advocated extensive funding to build and operate light rail system in the Louisville area, but despite wide press coverage, the plans never went past planning stages.

In 2013, TARC serviced an estimated 15 million customers. Currently, TARC runs 41 routes in 5 counties in Kentucky and Southern Indiana, and operates 226 buses and trolleys (32 hybrid buses), 89 paratransit vehicles, and employs approximately 640 team members. On average, 42,500 daily riders use TARC.

* Some of this information was gathered through Wikipedia and the Motor Coach Age editions of May-June 1990 and May-June 1991.

Union Station

Louisville's Union Station was formally dedicated on September 7, 1891 by the arrival of the first train. The total cost of the structure was $310,056, and at the time it was the largest station in the South. All contractors, with the exception of Seth Thomas (for the clocks) and Kendell Company (for the skylights) were from Louisville.

Nearly every immigrant to Louisville, countless servicemen and women, General Pershing, and three United States Presidents, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, arrived in Louisville through the doors of Union Station. On October 31, 1976, the last Amtrak train left Louisville for Nashville. Although Amtrak would continue operating trains in Louisville in 1979, they wouldn’t operate at Union Station after 1976.

TARC secured a federal grant to purchase Union Station, and behind it the current maintenance and transportation department were constructed. It was done in anticipation of having a garage capable of having 300 buses under cover.

Restoration of the building began in April 1979 and was completed a year later. The new garage and shop were occupied over the weekend of June 2. The cost was about $2 million. After the formal opening ceremonies in mid April 1980, the Transit Authority of River City became the new occupant of Union Station.

Architecture

Designed by F. W. Mobray, chief architect for the railroad, the building is in Richardsonian Romanesque style with brick-faced limestone ashlar quarried in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The trim is Bedford stone, and the roof, trussed with a combination of heavy wood and iron, is covered with slate.

The interior, finished with quartered oak and southern pine, features a large vaulted ceiling lighted by an enormous stained glass skylight. Several art glass panels grace both the north and south facade. The original ceramic tile floor and marble wainscot have been restored, along with a number of the Station's concourse benches.

Large rose stained-glass windows admit a light reminiscent of the era in which the building was designed.

TARC & Union Station

The landmark station houses TARC's Administrative Offices. The first floor of Union Station now holds offices for TARC's personnel and accounting departments, a credit union, and paratransit offices. Additional administrative offices and a Board Room occupy the mezzanine and second levels, while the third floor contains a training facility and telephone information center.

The small baggage building directly to the west also has been renovated, providing space for TARC's print shop and grounds maintenance crew.

Union Station's first floor is open to the public from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The original mule drawn trolley in Union Station was built in 1865 and used by Louisville Railway Company until 1901. It is one of only two original mule drawn trolleys left in the United States.