From the Encyclopedia of Cleveland
URBAN TRANSPORTATION. During the last 150 years, transit in Greater Cleveland has gone from the horse and buggy to modern, diesel-powered buses and electric-rail coaches. Ownership has gone from small, privately owned, and minimally regulated systems (prior to 1910), to private corporations with tight public controls (1910-41), to city programs governed by a small board (1942-75); and to an autonomous regional authority (1975 to the present). Cleveland’s urban transit programs have run the gamut of problems and opportunities faced by all metropolitan systems, whose histories often have been complex and stormy.
The first urban transportation system established in the Cleveland area was the CLEVELAND & NEWBURGH RAILWAY, incorporated in 1834 by prominent Clevelanders. Operated by Silas Merchant, this line ran from a quarry atop Cedar Glen via Euclid to PUBLIC SQUARE, with passenger service commencing at the Railway Hotel at what is now E. 101st St. and Euclid. The line went bankrupt in 1840 and received close to a $50,000 as a subsidy from the county, but continued losing money and ceased operations in 1842. Ca. 1857, omnibuses, or “urban stagecoaches,” appeared on Cleveland’s streets. At first they ran between the downtown hotels and the railroad stations, saving patrons the trouble of carrying bags through “rutted, quagmire streets,” but they later extended service to “residential sections, remote business locales, and parks and water cures.” But omnibus travel, while more convenient than walking, was itself uncomfortable and unreliable. Horse-drawn carriages had difficulty on muddy streets, and omnibuses often did not operate in such conditions. Cleveland omnibus operator Henry S. Stevens sought a solution to this early urban transit problem and found it in the horse-drawn streetcar: rails secured in the streets made it easier for the horses to pull the cars in all sorts of weather. The first “oat-powered railway” in Ohio was introduced in Cincinnati in 1859; that year CLEVELAND CITY COUNCIL granted 2 of Stevens’s companies–the EAST CLEVELAND RAILWAY CO. and the Woodland Ave. Street Railroad Co. (later the Kinsman St. Railroad Co.)–franchises to lay rails in the streets. Service began regularly on 5 Sept. 1860; between 1863-76, 8 other companies were formed to operate lines along other streets.
To extend service from the end of these lines into the countryside, 3 suburban steam lines were organized in the late 1860s and 1870s. The CLEVELAND & NEWBURGH “DUMMY” RAILROAD, organized in 1868, ran from the Woodland-E. 55th St. barns to Broadway and Miles Ave.; its steam locomotives were disguised as passenger cars to fool horses, thus earning it the name “dummy” railroad. It operated until numerous accidents forced it into receivership in 1877. The Rocky River Railroad, organized in 1867, began at W. 58th and Bridge and ran to a resort called Cliff House; this line, instrumental in the development of LAKEWOOD, operated until 1882. The third such line was JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER†’s Lakeview & Collamer Railroad Co., in operation from 1875-81. In the 1870s, complaints about streetcar service were frequent. The uncoordinated transportation system required riders to take several different lines to reach their destinations and to pay a new fare on each. In 1879 TOM L. JOHNSON†, a veteran street railway businessman new to Cleveland, sparked the beginning of a prolonged struggle that would affect not only intracity transportation but local politics as well. He fought to enter the Cleveland street railway business, then worked to develop a single-fare ride from the west side into downtown. The CLEVELAND RAILWAY FIGHT OF 1879-83 pitted Johnson against banking, coal, iron, and shipping tycoon MARCUS ALONZO HANNA† and had profound implications for the future of local transportation.
Between 1879-93, the Cleveland transportation system was electrified and consolidated. As early as 1872, when the EPIZOOTIC epidemic struck area horses and brought most street railways to a halt (a few lines used mules, which were unaffected by the epidemic), street railway owners had sought other forms of motive power. The first local attempt to use electricity to power the cars came in July 1884, but proved unsatisfactory. Electrical power was used successfully by the East Cleveland St. Railway Co. on 18 Dec. 1888; it began running 4 electrical cars the next day and extended its electric service to Public Square on its Euclid line in July 1889. The first electric car to reach the Square, however, had been on the South Side Railroad’s Jennings Ave. (W. 14th) line on 19 May 1889. By 1894 all but 2 lines in Cleveland had been electrified; these were the Payne Ave. and Superior St. lines of FRANK ROBISON†’s Cleveland City Cable Railway Co. Cars on these lines were powered by cable ropes pulled through concrete tubes by large flywheels located in powerhouses. The city’s first cable car appeared on 17 Dec. 1890 on the Superior Line; the change from horse-drawn cars to cable cars was gradual, but Robison had adopted cable cars after they had become outmoded by electricity. The Superior line was electrified in July 1900, the Payne line in Jan. 1901–the latter carried the last cable car in Cleveland on 19 Dec. 1901.
Prior to 1893, Cleveland had 8 different companies operating 22 different lines. Consolidation of these scattered lines began in the 1880s. In 1885 the Kinsman St. Railroad Co. (operating the Woodland and Kinsman lines) merged with Hanna’s West Side Railway Co. (Detroit, Lorain, and Franklin-W. Madison lines) to form the WOODLAND AVE. AND WEST SIDE RAILWAY CO.. In 1889 Frank Robison’s Cleveland City Cable Railway Co. was formed by the mergers of the St. Clair St. Railroad Co. with the Superior Railroad Co. (Payne and Superior lines). In Mar. 1893 the CLEVELAND ELECTRIC RAILWAY CO. was formed by the merger of Azariah Everett’s EAST CLEVELAND RAILWAY CO. (Euclid, Cedar, Wade Park, Garden [Central], Quincy, and Mayfield lines) with Joseph Stanley’s BROADWAY & NEWBURGH STREET RAILROAD CO. (Broadway and Belt lines); in April the Cleveland Electric Railway added Tom and Al Johnson’s Brooklyn St. Railroad Co. (Pearl, Scovill, and Abbey Lines) and their South Side St. Railroad Co. (Jennings [W. 14th], Scranton and Clark, and Fairfield lines). The Cleveland Electric became known as the Big Consolidated, and shortly after its mergers were completed, the Little Consolidated–more properly the Cleveland City Railway Co.–took shape in May when Robison’s Cleveland City Cable Co. merged with Hanna’s Woodland Ave. & West Side Street Railroad.
Cleveland Electric suffered through a violent strike in 1899 (see STREETCAR STRIKE OF 1899), but for the most part it did battle with the Little Con until acquiring it in July 1903. For the rest of the decade, Cleveland Electric fought with reform mayor Tom L. Johnson, who argued for a 3-cent fare andMUNICIPAL OWNERSHIP of the lines, using the battle to educate the people about the evils of “privilege” and the benefits of public ownership. The railway disputes eventually were brought before the U.S. District Court, Northern Ohio, where the determined efforts of Judge ROBERT WALKER TAYLER†, a superb conciliator and mediator, resolved the issue. His “Cost of Living Service,” released on 15 Mar. 1909, was based on the premise that “the community never pays more than the cost of service rendered; that the owners of the property never, by any device, get more than 6% on the agreed amount of their investment; and that the community will at all times know just how the property is being operated and have the power to correct any abuse either of management or of service.” This was the basis of the Tayler Franchise adopted by Cleveland City Council in Dec. 1909 and approved by the voters in Feb. 1910. When the franchise became operational 1 March 1910, it inaugurated a new era in Cleveland’s transportation history. Franchises of the former competing companies were given to the CLEVELAND RAILWAY CO.; appraised value was $14,675,000. Guidelines for costs and changes were prescribed. The innovative agreement provided for the position of city street railroad commissioner (appointed and removed only by the mayor but paid by the company), for boards of arbitration, and for municipal ownership, when such was permitted under Ohio’s constitution. Cleveland’s public/private system caught the attention of the nation. Mayor NEWTON D. BAKER† appointed PETER WITT† as railroad commissioner, who scrutinized every move of the company. Witt also pioneered the “skip-stop” plan, under which inbound cars stopped at every other street and outbound ones at the other. Because each patron walked 1 additional block per day, service was faster. He also developed and patented the “Pete Witt Car,” which had front and rear doors for entrance and exit.
The system that brought Cleveland some of the best and cheapest service in the nation was not immune to the Depression of the 1930s. Decreased patronage, inability to meet fixed charges, including the 6% return, and continued use of aging equipment spurred interest in public ownership. An Analytical Survey of the Cleveland Railway Co., completed in July 1937, carried overtones of the inevitability of public transit ownership, which finally arrived in 1942. Twenty years after the Ohio constitution had permitted a city to purchase a transit system, Cleveland’s city council passed an ordinance for the purchase, transit bonds amounting to $17.5 million were issued, and at midnight 23 April 1942 Cleveland took possession of the system. Operation and management became part of the Department of Public Utilities under Commissioner Walter J. McCarter until 3 Nov. 1942 when voters approved a charter amendment establishing an independent transit board “to supervise, manage and control the transportation system.” The 3-member board, appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the city council, began to function on 1 Jan. 1943; its first chairman was William C. Reed. McCarter continued as the system’s first general manager. Although the amended city charter completely separated the administration of transportation from other public utilities, the city council retained the right to approve new capital expenditures, the acquisition of other transit systems or franchise extensions, and the disposal transit system property. With these exceptions, the CTS board followed the model of the directors of a private corporation–to determine policies and to give the general manager responsibility for operations.
The city’s performance with public transit was successful until the late 1960s. During World War II ridership had increased rapidly as automobile manufacturing ceased, gasoline was rationed, and employees, including many more women, worked more days per week. With a prosperous CTS, the 1942 debt, scheduled for repayment in 20 years, was redeemed in half the time. A 1951 Reconstruction Finance Corp. loan of $29.5 million was granted by the federal government for the purchase of vehicles for improvements in surface facilities, and for assistance with the construction of a rapid rail system. In exchange for the loan, the RFC insisted that the transit system be free of all oversight by Cleveland City Council and that the number of transit board members be increased to 5. The city council retained its right to approve board appointees, to dispose of the system as a whole, and to issue CTS bonds. Operation of the rapid transit between Windermere and Public Square began on 15 March 1955; service to the west side to W. 117 St. began on 14 August 1955 and was extended to the airport in 1968, making Cleveland the first city in the Western Hemisphere to have rapid-rail transit from the center city to the airport. While the east-west rapid transit marked another milestone in the city’s transportation history, buses, first used extensively in the 1920s, proved more flexible if less glamorous than rail-bound streetcars, which were gradually phased out–the last one ran on 24 Jan. 1954. CTS was a “profit-making” venture between 1942-67, but it lost $483,474 in 1968, $1,774,861 in 1970. Charged with operating from the farebox, Cleveland could no longer hold fares to $.50 for local rides without additional sources of income, but the city was reluctant to give up control of the failing system to a regional authority despite its increasing deficits. In Dec. 1974 the GREATER CLEVELAND REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY was created to rescue CTS and to consolidate the other local transit companies operating in the area. Cuyahoga County voters overwhelmingly approved a 1% sales tax in July 1975 to subsidize RTA’s operations and a new, lower fare structure became effective in September.
The mix of RTA’s revenue sources changed dramatically because much of the new system’s income now came from public sources instead of the farebox. By 1985 total revenues were $135.4 million, with passenger fares bringing in only $36.8 million; the sales tax contributed $77.9 million, the state chipped in $6.8 million, and Federal Operational Assistance provided $11.3 million. In addition, significant monies for new rolling stock, system upgrade, and route expansion were received from the federal government on a matching basis.
The regional authority was not the panacea hoped for in 1975. Although ridership increased from 78 million in 1974 to 130 million in 1980, it began to decline again, this time to 59.97 million in 1993, reflecting the continuing exodus of the city’s population and businesses. Diminishing passenger traffic, reductions in federal subsidies, and reduction in anticipated revenues from sales taxes forced RTA to raise fares and cut service. In 1982 the local fare was raised to $.85 and it continued to escalate, reaching $1.25 for local rides in 1993. Hoping to increase ridership, RTA built a walkway from its TOWER CITY CENTER station to the new Gateway sports center to provide efficient transit service for fans attending CLEVELAND INDIANS andCLEVELAND CAVALIERS games.
Dallas Young (dec.)
Christiansen, Harry. Northern Ohio’s Interurbans and Rapid Transit Railways (1965).
——. Trolley Trails through Greater Cleveland and Northern Ohio (1975).
Morse, Kenneth S. P. Cleveland Streetcars (1955).