TARC’s 45th Anniversary Road Trip Celebration
Following a rich history of public transportation in Louisville dating to the early 1800s that included horse-drawn coaches, mule cars, electric streetcars, trains and buses, local voters approved funding for The Transit Authority of River City (TARC) in a referendum in 1974.
Today TARC provides public transportation in Jefferson, Oldham and Bullitt Counties in Kentucky and Floyd and Clark counties in Indiana.
The History of TARC 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.
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 which had long operated mass transit lines in Louisville, converted from electric trolleys to diesel buses in the late 1940s, and changed its name from the Louisville Railway Company in 1947.
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, setting the stage for a metropolitan area without a private mass transit company.
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.
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.
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 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’s Union Station for Nashville.
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.
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.
Union Station’s first floor is open to the public from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Monday through Friday).
Below are some highlights that stand as a testament to the ways TARC has kept the community moving forward:
On November 5th, Louisville voters approve a tax increase to fund mass transit. Mayor Harvey Sloane championed the campaign at a time when private mass transit bus operators were going out of business or on the brink of financial collapse and unable to provide adequate service.
With the help of federal funding, TARC purchases the Louisville Transit Company, buys new buses, reduces fares and expands service. Fare during peak travel times is 50 cents; non-peak fare is 25 cents.
TARC purchases the Blue Motor Coach Company, which serves suburban areas in Louisville. Train service ends at Union Station, which will later become TARC’s headquarters.
April 10th marks the grand opening of TARC’s new headquarters in the renovated Union Station. Express service begins, with an Oldham County route.
The first wheelchair-lift accessible buses join the fleet.
TARC launches the “Little Belle” Main-Market Circulator Route and assumes the Daisy Line, which operates between New Albany and Louisville, and begins service in Southern Indiana.
America’s oldest living resident, 117-year old Louisvillian Frank Smith, receives an honorary lifetime TARC bus pass. Smith said he’s been riding buses “ever since there’s been a bus” and will do so “as long as I have some place to go.” Smith was born 23 years before Union Station opened in 1890.
Motivated by a lack of access to public transportation, citizens with disabilities organize and protest at Union Station. Three who chained their wheelchairs to the doors were arrested, and others blocked TARC buses on the street. One of the protestors, Arthur Campbell, today serves on the TARC Accessibility Advisory Council.
TARC’s first low-floor vehicles, the ramp-equipped Orion II, are introduced, improving access for passsengers with disabilities. The introduction coincides with the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26.
TARC buses become Safe Place sites in cooperation with National Safe Place, the first initiative of its kind in the country. Other transit agencies follow suit and partner with Safe Place to designate their buses as safe places where youths in need of services can access help.
TARC opens the Nia Neighborhood Jobs Center in the 2900 block of West Broadway in a cooperative effort with Metro Government and the Empowerment Zone community initiative.
TARC begins a partnership with the University of Louisville that allows faculty, students and staff to ride fare-free.
TARC’s fleet becomes 100 percent compliant and accessible under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
The maiden voyage of the First Friday Trolley Hop occurs. This partnership between TARC and the downtown business community continues to promote businesses, restaurants, museums and shops in the downtown, NuLu (East Market) and SoFo (South Fourth Street) neighborhoods.
TARC introduces five hybrid-electric buses to Louisville. TARC and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1447 receive the Labor Management Award from the University of Louisville. TARC receives awards from the Louisville Urban League, Kentuckiana Works Education and the Louisville Central Labor Council AFL-CIO for positive contributions as an employer.
The F.A.T. Friday Trolley Hop begins along the Frankfort Avenue corridor in the Butchertown, Clifton and Crescent Hill neighborhoods.
TARC implements the Ride to Safety Program in partnership with the Center of Women and Families, which offers assistance to passengers in need of help by connecting them with community resources.
TARC Executive Director Barry Barker is named the 2007 Outstanding Public Transportation Manager by APTA. TARC begins a partnership with Humana for its employees to ride TARC fare-free.
During an epic ice storm on Jan. 29 that leaves more than 200,000 people without power, 80 percent of TARC’s fleet stay in operation. From Jan. 30 to Feb. 2, TARC3 paratransit vans and Yellow Cab, which supplements paratransit service, transported 236 people from their homes to shelters or to homes of relatives to ride out the storm and its aftermath.
TARC opens a new Maintenance and Training Annex behind Union Station where buses are cleaned and drivers are trained. The building receives a Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for its energy-saving and conservation features, including a green roof and sensors that regulate heating and cooling.
A new TARC radio system that is part of MetroSafe and designed to improve safety and operating efficiency is completed.
J. Barry Barker receives the Sharon D. Banks Award for Humanitarian Leadership in Transportation from the Transportation Research Board.
TARC introduces real-time bus arrival information online through Google Maps and a TARC-hosted trip planner.
Plans are under way for a new electronic fare collection system that will allow passengers to pay fares onboard using tap-and-go smartcard technology in place of paper tickets and passes.
At its 40th anniversary celebration, TARC unveils a new logo and introduces what will become the first LouLift, one of 10 all-electric zero-emission buses that will replace downtown trolleys.
Louisville Tourism honors TARC with two Rose Awards – Partner of the Year and Transportation category.