A Historical Perspective on Transit through the Years
Public transportation has been provided for the citizens of the St. Cloud metropolitan area for over 116 years without interruption from ownership changes or labor strife - an accomplishment signifying the importance that has, and is still being placed on providing life sustaining mobility services to our citizens. Come along for a ride on 116 years of streetcars and buses:
The Street Railway
Albert G. Whitney in 1887 organized the St. Cloud City Street Car Company which consisted of 2 horse-drawn cars, 10 horses, and a short stretch of single track from the Grand Central Hotel on Fifth Avenue to the intersection of Ninth Ave. North and Third St. North via St. Germain Street and Ninth Ave. North. In 1891 the Northwest Thompson-Huston Company of St. Paul purchased the system, laid three addtional miles of track to Waite Park's Great Northern Railway car shops, and changed to electrical operation. One year later track was laid between Sauk Rapids and the eastern edge of the Germain Street bridge until structural modifications were made to the bridge in 1894, and then the first car crossed into downtown St. Cloud. Ownership changed again with the Benton Power & Traction Co. purchasing the system in 1897, to then have Whitney repurchasing the company in 1900 to form the Light, Heat, Transit, and Public Service Company. There are now three lines: 5th Avenue South from 10th St. South to St. Germain (Lower Town line), St. Germain to 9th to 3rd Street to Waite Park, and the Sauk Rapids line.
The Granite City Railway was incorporated in 1906 and took over the street railway system. The 1907 Census provided the following information: 8 miles of track, two carhouses (319-329 5th Ave. South, and on the Sauk Rapids line at 3rd St. N.E. and Wilson Avenue N.E.), fifteen closed passenger cars and two snow plows. A.G. Whitney incorporated the St. Cloud Public Service Co. in 1915 and once again purchased the system from Granite City Railway. During the peak years of 1912-1920, the Sauk Rapids run took 20 minutes and cost five cents; a trip from the Lower Town line to Waite Park required 30 minutes and cost ten cents.
The effect of the automobile became apparent by the early twenties when rail ridership began its decline. In August of 1924 Northern States Power Company acquired the Granite City Railway Co. (Granite City kept its system name throughout Whitney's 1906-1924 ownership), and by1925, the street car system was operating at a deficit. However, NSP Co. chose to continue service at a loss even after its franchise had expired on May 21, 1928, until some other method of transportation was available that provided the City a more flexible mode. The Sauk Rapids line was abandoned June 1, 1933, and by 1935 track mileage was reduced to 4.9 miles with only 4 cars.
1936 End of One Era - Street Cars, and Beginning of Another - Rubber Tires
Raymond Brothers Transportation, Inc. was the first enterprise in St. Cloud to provide this “new” service: the Bus. The City belatedly celebrated the passing of the street car and the arrival of the buses on the night of April 29, 1936, with hundreds of symbolical last riders on the old street cars, a grand parade, and speeches in front of the County Court House. The street cars ran late into the night under the direction of the motormen who had served the City for nearly 50 years.
On April 30, 1936, at 6:40 a.m. the first of Raymond Brother’ eight all-steel buses rolled onto the street of St. Cloud. Five routes were used offering hour and half-hour service for a fare of five cents. The new bus routes took their lead from the old street cars; the Waite Park, Sauk Rapids, and Lower Town lines remained almost intact. Raymond Brothers did, however, begin new routes at three major generation points: The Veterans Administration Hospital, the State Reformatory for Men and the St. Cloud Hospital.
St. Cloud Bus Lines and Peak Ridership
On June 8, 1939, Raymond Brothers sold the bus lines to Amos Crosby for $12,000. Under his direction, the St. Cloud Bus Lines, Inc. was chartered on June 10, 1939. Amos Crosby led the St. Cloud Bus Lines through its peak years of 1943- 1947. He added seven buses to his original ten in order to facilitate the large number of war years passengers. The responsibility for transit was again changed on February 20, 1948, when Crosby sold the St. Cloud Bus Lines, Inc. to Ray H. Evenson of St. Cloud.
The Decline of Transit Ridership
After the 1948-1949 peaks, ridership began its long decline, and during the years of 1950-1955, the system averaged 1,563,240 passengers per year. The franchise was still profitable. Evenson followed the same routes, increased the number of buses to 18 in 1955, and increased the fare to ten cents. Ridership varied slightly between 1958 and 1965. The fare was again increased in 1962 to twelve cents. During the 18 years that Ray H. Evenson controlled the St. Cloud Bus Lines, Inc., he witnessed the ridership fall from 2,140,023 in 1949 to a low of 411,364 in 1957, and back to 541,270 in 1965, his last full year of operation
This was a reflection of national trends. Ridership in the late 1930s and 1940s was buoyed by the depression and the War. Since people were unable to obtain or buy automobiles, they had to “settle” for transit. Once the nation returned to normal, the automobile again became dominant. The year of 1955, for example, saw more automobiles sold than any year before or since.
The St. Cloud Bus Lines, Inc. was sold to Stanley Preusse on April 1, 1966, when Preusse also purchased from Evenson the rights to the charter and school bus service in St. Cloud. In 1966, the lines had a ridership of 391,223 passengers over its routes; the Veterans Admininstration Hospital, St. Cloud Hospital, the Fingerhut Express, and the Waite Park-Sauk Rapids line. A 25 cent fare was now standard.
1969 St. Cloud Metropolitan Transit Commission Formed
July 29, 1969, marked the beginning of a new era in the St. Cloud area’s transit picture. On that date the new St. Cloud Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) was officially organized. The first appointed members of the MTC were Waite Park Mayor, Alcuin Ringsmuth; Sauk Rapids Mayor, Arthur (Ben) Gratzek; and St. Cloud Councilmen David Sauer and George Reasbeck. In 1969 the St. Cloud Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) was established by the Minnesota Legislature as a political subdivision transit authority of the State of Minnesota. The MTC’s original transit area was composed of the cities of St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids and Waite Park.
Thirteen days before the MTC was organized, Stanley Preusse discontinued five of his firm’s seven routes - the Veteran’s Administration Hospital, Pantown line, the St. Cloud Hospital line, the South Side and the Fifth Avenue South lines. One bus did run from Sauk Rapids to Waite Park via St. Germain Street with hourly stops in the two villages. Service was also offered to Fingerhut and Franklin Manufacturing by the Fingerhut Express. The Veterans Administration Hospital and the Crossroads Shopping Center were served by the Waite Park line.
1969 Voigt Charter Company Operates Buses for MTC
During the month of August, the MTC debated whether to enter into an operations contract with the St. Cloud Bus Lines, Inc., or with Melvin and Norbert Voigt of the Voigt Charter Company. The MTC voted to negotiate a management contract with the Voigt Charter Company for bus service in the St. Cloud area. Preusse, upon the MTC’s decision, continued to operate one bus on routes in Sauk Rapids, Waite Park and St. Cloud. The Voigt Charter Company incorporated its city bus line as Transit Systems, Inc., and it was agreed that service would commence on Monday, October 27, 1969.
The new bus line, operating with three buses, covered routes in Sauk Rapids, St. Cloud, and Waite Park. Buses were periodically routed to the St. Cloud Hospital and the South Side college area. On December 9, 1969, three additional buses were placed in operation and routes were added to include the Veterans Administration Hospital, the Southeast Side and the North Side of St. Cloud.
During this time, the St. Cloud Bus Lines continued with one bus in service. Thus, the two firms were in competition with the Waite Park-St. Cloud- Sauk Rapids line. This situation continued until the end of 1969, when Preusse terminated his one-vehicle service.
In February, 1970, Transit Systems, Inc. increased service with the routes to potential passengers at headways of 30 to 60 minutes: a Sauk Rapids, Waite Park, North Side, Southeast, Pantown, Fifth Avenue South, South Side-Woodland Hills line and two hospital lines were included. The public did not respond and in June of 1970, the number of routes was decreased from 10 to 7. The revised routes were named the North Side, Southeast, East Side, Waite Park, Sauk Rapids, South Side and Pantown lines. The fare remained 25 cents with advance ticket books selling 9 tickets for $2.00.
1970's - Improvements Abound
1970 Property Tax Levies Support MTC
In response to the Metropolitan Transit Commission’s desire to continue bus service in the St. Cloud area, and, as a result of large operating deficits, in the summer of 1970, the MTC levied a property tax in the three communities. The tax mill rate of the MTC cannot exceed 5 mills.
1974 Service Improved with New Buses
In the spring of 1973 the MTC received eight new 45-passenger diesel buses from the General Motors Corporation with financial assistance from the Urban Mass Transportation Administration of the United States Department of Transportation. In 1974 the MTC purchased one additional 45-passenger diesel bus. The new GMC buses replaced a fleet of older 1957 leased buses and enabled the MTC to improve the Waite Park and Pantown routes into two large circular routes servicing the St. Cloud Hospital, Industrial Park, Waite Park, Crossroad Shopping Center, St. Cloud’s 3rd Street North, and Downtown St. Cloud; the Waite Park route ran clockwise and the Pantown route ran counter-clockwise. These route improvements created the two best routes in the entire MTC transit system.
1974 Specialized Service Begins
Until December of 1974, handicapped persons in the transit area were forced to depend on friends and relatives, taxi-cabs and in some instances an ambulance for their required transportation needs. In cooperation with the St. Cloud Area Council for the Handicapped and various other local social service agencies, the MTC began their Specialized Service for the handicapped. The service operated on a dial-a-ride basis and utilized vehicles equipped with a hydraulic lift.
1975 Downtown St. Cloud Gets A Transfer Area
In 1975 four important events happened which can be termed as significant steps towards providing an even safer, reliable and economical mode of transportation in the transit area:
• A piece of off-street urban renewal property located at the intersection of 5th Avenue and St. Germain was made available to the MTC for a central transfer point. Site improvements were made and two passenger waiting shelters were purchased, thus making the downtown transfer area much safer and desirable facility.
• On May 1st, fares were reduced to ten cents a ride with no transfers. This policy eliminated the use of undesirable transfer tickets and was also a concerted effort to increase transit patronage.
• The 1974 Minnesota State Legislature approved Supplemental Transit Aid Program whereas the State of Minnesota pays up to two-thirds of the transit system’s operating deficit. The MTC received $60,007 in supplemental aid funds in 1975.
• The Urban Mass Transportation Act created the Section 5 program to assist in the funding of capital and operating assistance. The MTC first took advantage of this program in the fall of 1975.
Because of the State and Federal funding programs, many new improvements in transit operations were seen over the next five years: A new St. Cloud State University “carousel” service which operated minibuses between the University and high density student populations, the addition of nine 1966 GMC buses purchased from the Twin Cities Metropolitan Transit Commission which allowed the MTC to reduce headways on all fixed routes during morning and afternoon peak hours, and the addition of the Crossroads Route - a direct route from Sauk Rapids to the St. Cloud Hospital, Industrial Park and Crossroads Shopping Center. By 1983 the basic elements of the MTC’s operating system had been completed. The bus fleet was rehabilitated and modernized and became fully radio -equipped. A passenger waiting shelter program was started with the construction and placement of over 25 treated wood shelters. Transit service was expanded to include most of the developed portions of the transit service area, and the system’s rapid growth phase of the mid-1970s has been stabilized and is refined.
1980's - Many Changes Occur
1983 A Change in Management
1985 A New Operations Center
1986 Another Change in Management
1990's - Recognizing Success
2000's - Opportunities for Growth
The MTC owns all of the transit buses, facilities, materials and supplies necessary for the operation of the transit system. The MTC under its legislation annually levies a direct tax on all taxable property within the transit area to pay for a portion of operating capital costs.
The MTC currently operates both Metro Bus Fixed Route and Metro Bus Dial-A-Ride public transit services.
The Metro Bus Fixed Route system is comprised of 16 regularly scheduled routes Monday through Saturday with a fleet of 32 buses.
The Dial-a-Ride system provides demand responsive services with its fleet of low-floor small buses seven days a week to disabled and mobility impaired persons through its Specialized Service program, and to the general public throughout the extended service area, late night weeknight service and on Sundays. Plus, Saturday service to the City of Sartell.
In 2001, the MTC added the city of Sartell to its service area, with limited service beginning November 20, 2001, and full seven-day-a-week service beginning in May 2002.