In Cleveland Public Transportation is for Black People

Cleveland Trolly 1947 – flickr

Cleveland’s public transportation began like nearly all of the urban areas in this country. First with horse drawn cars and then a few cable cars and then electrified with electric trolly cars. Cleveland had electric trolleys up until the 1940s when they began to replace them with electric buses – so called trackless trolleys. Cleveland had trackless trolleys up until the last line was converted to diesel buses in 1962. The Lorain Av. Line on the west side of town. Contrary to popular belief, the city’s decision to got the diesel bus route was because of the the new heavy rail system that was to be expanded to the airport. The first in the country to do so. It was feared that the city could not provide enough electric power for both the electric buses and the heavy rail.

Cleveland’s bus and rail system – including the light rail/trolly system that ran to the suburb of Shaker Heights was pretty good. There were also connecting lines to systems in Lakewood, North Olmsted, Maple Heights, Brecksville, Garfield Heights and Euclid. In the 1960s through the early 1970s ridership was pretty heavy. Especially during rush hour where even with express buses running every 10 minutes or so, the buses were packed.

When I was living here in the early 1970s 90 some percent of the riders and all of the drivers were white. I ride the bus system now more than in the last few months since my car is down for the count. But even a year ago I would ride the bus and rail lines simply because driving down town and trying to navigate the Interstate system here is simply crazy making. Cities are not made for cars. They are made for people.

So why then are nearly 90 percent of the riders here blacks ? Yes I know all about the economics of the situation. But this is also the case on those lines that run in and to and from the outer suburbs which are almost all white.

Why is the white folks here now no longer ride public transportation ? Even with gas prices going through the roof and not likely to go down ? Why is it that what was once the preferred way of getting from the east side to the west side of town only used by blacks and a few other minorities ?

My impression of the system is quite positive. The buses and trains are well maintained and though I wish some ran a bit more often, they still run pretty well. The drivers and other employees are always helpful. You can generally bring you bicycle along on the buses and trains and except for a few stops, the light rail system accommodates wheel chair access well. And all the buses do too.

Does this also go along with the feeling I get here of two different universes – one white and one black – that interact only when necessary ? A kind of self segregation as it were.

I spent 70 years in the south. Mainly Florida and find this to be odd. Even when I was in Atlanta on occasion there was more inter racial mingling. In Miami and Tampa and Jacksonville all kinds of people rode the buses and trains. Miami now has a pretty slick light rail now too.

I find this all rather odd and rather sad.

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3 thoughts on “In Cleveland Public Transportation is for Black People

  1. Akron got rid of their electric buses by 1960 maybe earlier. I do remember them in down town when I was very young. They would throw sparks as they crossed over to another set of wires. I rode the bus into town until I was a senior in high school. We had diesel bus servlce that stopped in front of our house until 1960 after that we had to walk to catch it at a main intersection. After that there was no bus service to the suburbs where I moved to. We always took buses into down town because there was no place to park and the parking lots that were there cost more then the bus ride. Also, the first large mall opened up in 1963 and down town shopping declined.

    It has alot to do with county planning and where the bus lines went. After the flight into the suburbs in the 1960’s the buses actually didn’t follow the people. Families started having more then one car. We became a 2 car family in 1960. I also remember that during the 1960’s many bus routes were stopped and some routes only ran 4 times a day. The routes that were kept were the ones used heavily by the poor and ethnic elderly. The young left the Polish, Italian, Greek and German neigborhoods, that once built Akron, in the 1960’s. As the older people died off, African Americans moved in and took advantage of the bus service. I left Akron in 1982 so I don’t know after that what they did to maintain ridership after that.

    There was also Urban Renewal that tore down many intercity neigborhoods and the interstate was finished so you could get quickly across town and could live farther away from work. I also remember there was constantly reporting on the local news channels about all the black crime. That made people afraid to ride the bus. There was a feeling that walking you were in danger. My mother was afraid for me to ride down town when I was in high school unless there was an adult with us or a big group. I lied alot about that so I could use the down town library. She was afraid because of all the racial unrest and crime reported.

    Gas was cheap and then came the conservatives with their refusal to spend money on infastructure that only the poor used. We are were we are right now and you only see it more in Cleveland. It is going to change because personal transportation is getting too expensive and the younger generation cares about global warming. We don’t have all the realistate that is needed to cover with asphalt for future populations growth.

  2. Light rail here is mixed between black and white, though white collar generally ride from the NorthWest suburbs to downtown while blue collars ride everywhere. Bus passengers are more often black, but B’more is 2/3 black anyway.

    I forget the name but Edwin Black wrote a book in which he described how GM bought into and shutdown many trolley systems in favor of the buses they sold.

    I rode the bus to light rail for one winter, but got tired of standing around due to haphazard service. I had the option of simply walking or riding my bike instead, but others aren’t so lucky.

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