City of Phoenix - Public Transit Department

125 Years of Transit History Recognized in Phoenix

As Arizona concludes its centennial year of statehood, Phoenix transit fans had an opportunity to recognize another anniversary in the desert.

2012 marked the 125th year of public transit service in the city. Phoenix Public Transit staff honored this milestone in November an exhibit on changes to bus, light rail, and other passenger services in partnership with the city’s library system.

City staff came up with the idea for displays chronicling various facets of transit service as preparations were being made for the Arizona centennial in February, noted Phoenix Public Transit Public Information Officer Marie Chapple Camacho.

“Phoenix was one of the first communities to form in territorial Arizona, and was one of the first to introduce intra-city transit to residents, through public-private partnerships. It was a lot of fun to unearth parallels between our early city history, and transit in Phoenix today. Some of our busiest routes have existed in one form or another since those early days,” she said.

The exhibit was composed of displays on various facets of transit service, including the changing role of bus operators; introduction of service lines to feed the city’s growing outskirts; the unusual odds-and-ends found in old-fashioned bus fareboxes; and an array of vehicle types used, from the earliest mule-drawn wagons to the latest light rail cars.

The history displays also marked a full-circle in transit service provision, as the earliest service modes in Phoenix in 1887 involved rail-aligned horse cars and electrified streetcars. Like most cities, the 1940s brought increasing reliance on traditional transit buses and it wasn’t until 2008 that rail service was reintroduced. Those facts, and other more quirky gems — like commemorative memorabilia documenting the creation of Tico, the area’s sombrero-wearing transit mascot which had its heydays in the 1970s — made the exhibit an enjoyable walk down memory lane for passengers and transit staff alike.

“This exhibit provides a unique glimpse into how our city, and our transit service, has changed over the years,” said Interim Phoenix Public Transit Department Director Neal Young. “What I think is remarkable is how through so many changes, Phoenix’s commitment to transit service has endured through the years.”

While the exhibit may be over, curious transit buffs can still find additional information online at www.phoenix.gov/publictransit/muletofuel.html, with historical documents including a series of 1928 telegrams searching for lost streetcar parts that fell off freight trains during shipping; those-were-the-days interview transcripts with 1950s bus operators; and correspondence from World War II when getting workers to the factories via public transit was critical in times of gasoline and tire rationing.

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