Unveiling The Past: Recalling The Memorable Launch Of (Cincinnati) Metro 50 Years Ago

It was Aug. 15, 1973. Theodore Berry was the mayor, the Big Red Machine was in full effect and Cincinnati’s bustling streets were witnessing a groundbreaking transformation. The city of Cincinnati and the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) partnered to establish Metro (then known as Queen City Metro), the city’s first publicly owned and operated transit system.

“For the previous 21 years, Cincinnati Transit Inc. (also known as Cincinnati Transit Co.) had held sway over local transportation, resulting in limited options and decision-making influenced by politics. As the Greater Cincinnati region grew, the need for a comprehensive and reliable public transit system had become increasingly evident, setting the stage for the city-owned system,” according to Metro. “The partnership marked the birth of a new era and the promise of efficient and accessible transportation. As Metro celebrates 50 years of service, we relive our exhilarating inaugural ride.”

The Start Of A New Era: Queen City Metro

Former employees remember the takeover of transit operations like it was yesterday.

“We came to work that Wednesday and became employees of Queen City Metro,” retired mechanic Tom McNamara said. “The difference was the underlying excitement for new ownership, innovative leadership and growth.”

What Did Day 1 Look Like?

  • Cincinnati taxpayers were now funding mass transportation, making transit in the region truly “public” for the first time.
  • Approximately 900 Cincinnati Transit Inc. workers, including 500 operators and 200 mechanics, immediately became Queen City Metro employees and entered the state of Ohio’s public employees’ retirement system (OPERS).
  • Six buses were repainted in white, blue and silver to reflect the new name and branding. Mechanics placed Queen City Metro stickers over the Cincinnati Transit Co. logos on the remaining 294 buses in service.
  • A Queen City Metro song was composed for the occasion.
  • Bus fare was a flat 25 cents, and 5-cent zone fares replaced 10-cent transfers for traveling outside the city.
  • The city zone was extended several blocks beyond the city limits for routes that started in the city.
  • Norwood, St. Bernard and Elmwood Place were separate political divisions and not serviced.
  • Driver wages typically ranged $3 to 4 per hour.

“At 10:15 a.m., City Manager E. Robert Turner signed the official documents establishing Queen City Metro. City and SORTA leaders boarded one of the freshly painted buses at Fountain Square, and a day of festivities began. Most notably, Cincinnati Councilman Jerry Springer famously drove a newly painted bus around several city blocks — without hitting anything. Phew!” according to Metro. “While it was a change for taxpayers, who immediately began funding the system, riders and workers may have experienced the most significant changes. Cincinnatians were eager to board what they thought were new buses, but those were simply the same vehicles they had ridden the day prior — with new logos.”

Soon after the management change, Queen City Metro began acquiring buses en masse, hiring and promoting employees, increasing driver wages to nearly $5 per hour, and expanding rider services. Employee uniforms were changed to the now-famous navy pants and light blue shirts with a Metro patch on the sleeve.

What Does Metro Look Like Today?

“Metro is Southwest Ohio’s fixed-route bus service, connecting people and places, driving economic growth, and expanding quality-of-life choices. It serves Hamilton County residents and commuters from Clermont, Butler and Warren counties traveling to and from Cincinnati,” according to Metro.

A not-for-profit, tax-funded public service, Metro operates 365 days a year from approximately 4 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. daily from the Bond Hill and Queensgate garages, with some routes running 24 hours a day. With more than 850 employees and a fleet of more than 350 vehicles and more than 50 paratransit vehicles, Metro offers 26 local routes, 19 express routes and five job connection reverse-commute routes. Launched in 2023, MetroNow! vehicles provide on-demand service within two Hamilton County zones. In total, those vehicles travel approximately 11 million miles annually. Additionally, Metro provides more than 7,000 rides per school day to Cincinnati Public Schools and parochial junior and senior high school students.

“With the passage of Issue 7 in May 2020, Hamilton County voters approved a historic sales tax levy of 0.8 percent, creating a new funding source for Metro. With improved funding, Metro is bringing to life its Reinventing Metro plan, offering the Greater Cincinnati region bold, new transit innovations to help grow the regional economy and better connect our community to jobs, education, health care and entertainment,” according to Metro. “We could not be prouder to celebrate our progress and the convenient, reliable transportation options available to the people of Hamilton County and Cincinnati. It has been an exciting 50 years, and we can’t wait to see where the next 50 years of this ride take us.”

For more information about the history of Metro, visit the Cincinnati Transit Historical Association website.

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