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The MOD Years at PAT

1972 - 1980



Note: This is the third of a 6 part series that deals with the history of the Port Authority from the formation of PAT in 1956 through current.


Perhaps the most interesting era in all of PAT's history occurred between mid 1972 and early 1980. The MOD era as it was known consisted of hundreds of variations of a new paint livery design as well as a multitude of ad vehicles and special theme vehicles. It was also the time PAT did the most effort in trying to attract new riders with various marketing efforts as well as new routes and services.

This era started quietly enough but by the end of 1973, it exploded with new and unique paint jobs being rolled out of South Hills Junction Shops, Homewood Shops and later, the new Manchester Shops, at a steady pace. The streetcars were the first to receive the new treatment in mid 1972 as part of the modified Early Action Plan (EAP) which included the rehabilitation of the cars for the Library line. Buses soon followed in the colorful livery. Most of the early paint jobs done were theme or advertising liveries. By 1975, most of the buses and trolleys that were rolled out of the shops were repainted but minus an ad. Advertising, however, remained an important part of the era with some buses being painted in ad themes through 1980. A few buses, seemed particularly singled out for advertising and promotion as when one ad ran out, another was painted on it almost immediately. Coach 330 one one that received numerous repaints in various themes.

Click for larger imageThe first of the MOD painted vehicles to hit the streets in Pittsburgh were streetcars on July 26, 1972. Buses started to receive the new MOD scheme a few months later and the first buses to be placed in service with the new livery entered service in October of 1972 in McKeesport. A new PAT logo also heralded the start of new era. The "RAT" logo, as many called it, was only used between 1972 & 1973 and was replaced during 1973 with the "PATransit" logo which lasted until the late 1998 when the logo was again changed.

Click for larger imageThe MOD livery had 2 variations. The very early ones (both Old Looks and New Looks) were known as caterpillar stripes due to the vertical striping. Later buses (New Looks only) were painted with diagonal striping. The Old Looks continued to be painted in the caterpillar version. During 1972 & 1973, there were many experimental paint schemes which were used to try them out on the public as well as find one that worked well. The New Looks were the recipients of the majority of these experimental liveries. Ad buses also made their debut at this time with banks, radios stations and others purchasing long term ads which were painted onto the buses. Some were rather memorable such as the Parkvale buses (which turned out to be a long term advertising customer for PAT) and the many KQV buses which were painted light blue.

Click for larger imageTheme buses were another big part of the MOD program. U-bus liveries for service and promotion of local universities, Park & Ride liveries to promote the new park & ride services, E-buses to promote the benefits of taking transit as well as community oriented themes to promote various neighborhoods around the County.

The MOD program was more than just new paint jobs however. It also included a new attitude towards attracting riders to the system. Modernization and transit awareness were the impetus of the program. To attract the riders, PAT started special services which were theme based for easier marketing of the ideas. U-bus service was initiated to provide better service to the local colleges and universities in the area, E-buses promoted the benefits of transit, Red Flyer express routes were instituted to speed commuters to work and back home, the adoption of community message center vehicles for non-profit organizations, and a multitude of literature aimed at the public all played a role in making the 70's one of the more interesting times at PAT.

A large part of the MOD era resulted from a the administrative changes that resulted from a complete re-organization of PAT that occurred on June 21, 1971 which is where the third era of PAT could trace its roots back to. With new people in charge, came new ideas. On February 1, 1972, John T. Mauro was named Executive Director of PAT. Also on June 24, 1972, Harold H. Geissenheimer was appointed to the post of Director of Transit Operations and was the most closely associated with the MOD program. After these 2 key appointments, the MOD era started manifesting itself to the public.

A rather unique service PAT began offering on May 21, 1972 was a route known as the 84C Model Cities Loop. This route was funded by a contract between the City of Pittsburgh and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under the Pittsburgh Model Cities Program. One existing route, the 84A also offered reduced fares as per the contract. Under this program, the Model Cities Program leased a bus from PAT, who then operated the line under the contract terms. Although there was little difference if the bus was leased or not in terms of the actual operation, it did allow PAT to operate an route without incurring the normal costs involved. This service proved to be very popular in the area which it operated and continued to be operated by PAT after the Model Cities Program stopped funding the program.

On June 23-24, 1972, Hurricane Agnes reeked havoc with operations in the Pittsburgh area due to major flooding. Upon the receding of the flood waters, service could not be resumed immediately until the clean up was complete and all the bridges leading into the Downtown area were inspected. In addition, the rail service had to have its overhead inspected for damage and repaired before service could resume normally.

It hasn't been mentioned in the previous parts of the history but in acquiring the Pittsburgh Railways Company, PAT also acquired many antiquated bridges that became its responsibility to maintain. Most were old trolley bridges that were decked over in earlier years so that traffic could drive over them. By the early 1970's, many of these bridges already had weight limits placed on them due to their age and deteriorating condition which caused many years of sometimes long detours on routes until funding could be arranged to replace them so that they then could be turned over to Allegheny County or other local municipalities. One example was the old Cornell Street Bridge in West View which had weight restrictions on it since 1970 and couldn't be replaced until the mid 1980's. This example caused the 16C Bellevue - West View route to be detoured for about 15 years onto extremely narrow and twisting roads, that barely could handle a 35 foot bus, in order to get to the other side of the bridge. Situations such as this became more common as other bridges in PAT's possession had to have restrictions placed on them or closed all together until replacements could be funded and built. Many times the closure or weight restriction also created a safety issue as fire and ambulances could not use the bridges. In one case in the 80's, a community in Ben Avon was literally isolated due to 2 bridges being closed to traffic at the same time on either side of the area because of the fear of collapse as the bridges were so badly deteriorated. The only way into the area was a narrow back road which added well over 15 minutes of time to emergency vehicles that needed to enter the area.

Two-way radios first made their appearance at PAT on the buses starting in August of 1972 and on the trolleys in June of 1973. As of January 1975, 791 buses out of 936 total were equipped and 28 streetcars out of the 95 total were equipped and a year later, 862 buses and 29 streetcars were radio equipped as well as 66 work trucks and 45 supervisory cars. At this point as far as the bus fleet went, it was mostly the older vehicles that weren't equipped with radios as they were planned to be retired over the next few years. The original 2-way radios in the buses and streetcars were developed specifically for PAT by General Electric. Most all multi-channel 2-way bus radios manufactured after 1975, by all manufacturers, can trace their roots back to the GE design for PAT's original 2-way bus radios.

Click for larger imageAlthough express routes already existed, new express routes were added to supplement the existing service in rush hour as. These were known as the Red Flyers and used strictly a letter designation instead of the normal number-letter designation of the other routes. They also served areas off the main routes as they were routed so that they could complete the route quicker than the regular routes. The first 3 Red Flyers were placed in service on January 29, 1973 on the M-Monroeville, P-Penn Hills, and W-Wilkinsburg routes. By March 18, 1974, 40 Red Flyer routes were serving the area during rush hours.

There was also "reverse flow" routes known as a Red Arrow. The Parkway Center Red Arrow would head outbound in the mornings from town and inbound in the evenings to town to serve the Parkway Center area. The Oakland Red Arrow handled both direction on a frequent basis between Downtown and Oakland. These routes predated the Red Flyer service by several months.

Click for larger imageThe Ridership Development Program was also introduced in 1973. This program was set up to work on ways to improve service as well as attract and keep ridership. Red Flyer service was a part of this as was the U-bus service and theme buses. Fare promotions were put in place such as the "Tuesday Special" which offered reduced fares in off-peak hours, weekly and monthly permit prices were reduced, annual permits, stop over transfers and 10-trip strip tickets were introduced as well. Operator courtesy was also being heavily stressed by PAT with numerous operator handouts being issued to remind operators of such things as curbing the bus for passengers and many other items that would help PAT win over the ridership. "PAT Polite" decals were placed on all vehicles as well at this time. The program was proving successful and the ridership levels began to increase. A familiar name for many who worked at PAT and for many riders who looked at the schedules during the MOD years was Cliff Schwartz, the Courtesy Director. As driver courtesy was being stressed, a system of commendations were put in place where riders could call or write in to express their praise for drivers that went above and beyond their normal duties.

Also in the 70's, "PATman & Bobbin" made their debut as a marketing tool for PAT. Taking off of the Batman & Robin theme, the Transit Duo fought traffic and simplified the ride. While ridiculed at the time for its childish theme, this campaign coupled with the public education material actually worked out rather well. Another campaign utilized by PAT was a reduced fare "Tuesday Special" during off peak which was statistically PAT's slowest day for ridership.

One of the more unique and useful marketing strategies PAT did was to use the bus radios to gather traffic information from operators and offer that information to television and radio stations. This program became known as "PAT Traffic Central" and gave PAT free promotional time throughout both prime-time rush hours in exchange for simply reporting what the traffic conditions were.

Coinciding with PAT's new image was the creation of the Pennsylvania State Lottery. Proceeds of the lottery went to senior citizen programs throughout the state and one of the programs instituted was free rides for seniors during off peak. Any system in Pennsylvania was eligible for fare reimbursement from the lottery if they participated in this program. This program still exists to this day and PAT is still a participant in it.

This era also generated the most informative information for the public. Handouts on how to read a schedule, use a transfer, saving money with fare options, places to go as well as maintenance statistics and other various handouts allowed people to understand the transit system better and utilize it to its fullest extent. The marketing done in the 70's was perhaps some of the most effective ever done by PAT as it didn't impede the operation of the system and concentrated on educating the public on how to ride as well as about the benefits of taking PAT.

The biggest boon to PAT's ridership numbers was somewhat unexpected and that was the 1974 energy crisis. With oil prices skyrocketing and the odd/even gas rationing being put into place, many chose to leave their cars behind and take transit. PAT immediately responded to this situation by adding 90 additional rush hour trips. A weekend family fare was introduced for $1.00 which would allow a family of 4 unlimited rides on the weekend. Mid-day service was also increased and added "Early Bird" / "Late Bird" trips to help spread out the rush hour ridership. Many additional Park & Ride locations were also opened to allow those that lived out of range of a route to drive a short distance to catch a bus into town.

During the energy crisis, PAT's entire operating fleet was out during rush hours. PAT was forced to lease buses from Akron, OH and Wilkes-Barre, PA in order to handle the ridership surge. New buses were immediately advertised for bids and Flxible won the award to build 70 new buses for PAT. Unfortunately, these wouldn't arrive until 1975 and many of the older buses in the fleet, which were slated for retirement, were becoming unreliable due to their age which was leading to the buses breaking down in service. The Wilkes-Barre buses as well a a couple of the Akron buses were purchased at the end of the lease and continued to serve PAT for several more years. One of these coaches, 595, is preserved at AMCAP.

Even with the many issues related to the energy crisis in 1975 that effected the quality of service, PAT was ranked the 3rd most efficient transit operation in the United States and 7th in terms of the number of people transported out of approximately 300 publicly operated systems. That isn't a bad position at all to find yourself in during the height of the energy crisis and showed how PAT's new management philosophy was paying off.

Even though the new PAT philosophy was paying off in terms of increased ridership and revenues, there were both internal and external political struggles that threatened the success of the MOD program as well as PAT itself. Primarily was that of the Skybus program that was embroiled in controversy and lawsuits. The Skybus program was extremely polarizing for both the politicians of the area as well as internally at PAT. Stresses from the continual fights to improve transit in the Pittsburgh area as well as the local politicians continued reluctance to allow for progress in public transit resulted in John T. Mauro leaving PAT to head up a new system starting up in San Mateo, CA in October of 1975 and Harold Geissenheimer leaving in February of 1976 to become the General Operations Manager of the Chicago Transit Authority. During this turbulent time, the PAT Board of Directors were also short several members, who resigned also, that were not being replaced as the Allegheny County Commissioners were waiting for a consultant study on the alternatives to the Skybus project.

During the time of the fight over Skybus, a media campaign of sorts was going on to promote the new mode of transit as well as the remainder of the Early Action Program which was also in jeopardy due to the plan revolving around Skybus. Various model displays were put on display at various shopping malls touting the benefits of Skybus as well as many brochures and campaign style buttons. This media campaign didn't work out as the opposition mounted a better media blitz.

At the time, the local media was blasting the County Commissioners for not acting on the issues that drove the 2 key leaders of PAT's success, as well as the Manager of Maintenance, Kenneth Hussong, who that left during that time as well. Editorials in various papers expressed concern that other key executives would leave unless the County Commissioners started to address the problem.

When John Mauro left PAT in 1975, Harold H. Geisenheimer and James Maloney were co-acting Executive Directors. James Maloney retained the acting Executive Director position after Harold Geisenheimer left and then was later named as the official Executive Director later in 1976 after additional members were installed to the Board of Directors.

PAT continued on without the leaders of the team responsible for the early success of the MOD era but the lack of the two key players helped to allow for the slow deterioration of the MOD program. By 1977, ridership began to slowly drop from the highs of 1972-1975 even though there were some very notable successes such as the South Busway opening.

At the time of Harold Geisenheimer's departure from PAT, the Board of Directors was to vote on and approve a fare hike, the first in 5 years, which would raise the base fare from 40 to 50. This approval occurred on February, 25, 1976. The main reason for the fare hike was the refusal of Allegheny County and the State to provide the adequate funding to allow PAT to continue operations without having to slash service.

Commuter rail service in the County was also offered by the P&LE and the B&O Railroads since before PAT assumed public transit operations in 1964. P&LE's offering was a once a day service which was increased by a trip during 1974. The B&O commuter service however, had been eyed by PAT for many years. A study was initiated on February 27, 1970 regarding the feasibility of PAT assuming the operations and extending the train to Versailles. PAT had been in negotiations with the B&O from 1971 through 1974 regarding taking over this operation with B&O operating and maintaining the equipment. With the energy crisis hitting, talks were sped up with an agreement being reached in October of 1974 with the B&O (Chessie System at this point) and the new service implemented on February 1, 1975.

The agreement for the PATrain was that PAT lease the equipment for three years and then purchase it outright, including 2 locomotives. The rehabilitated equipment as well as the increase in service frequency immediately attracted riders from the Mon Valley. Another important part of this deal was that the fare structure of the rail operation became integrated into the PAT fare structure which allowed for transfers and permits to be used by riders to reduce the overall cost of travel.

Click for larger imagePAT's order of Flxible buses arrived in 1975 and immediately placed into service. These 70 buses were initially well received and very much welcomed to the fleet. They consisted of 50 35 foot (45102-8-1) and 20 40 foot (53102-8-1) coaches and arrived painted in the MOD livery. They were numbered 1200-1249 for the 35 footers and 2600-2619 for the 40 foot coaches. The 40 foot buses didn't have standee windows and were called Commuter Express buses. Sources indicate that PAT planned at some point to convert these coaches with suburban style seating but this was never done. These buses soon proved to be one of the worst buses PAT had ever purchased in its entire history as they quickly rusted out and within 6 years, more than half the fleet was out of service (some permanently) due to excessive rusting of the body and structural components. This order marked the start of a long term problem with poorly manufactured buses as well as the start of what was close to fleet failures with the older equipment.

The next order of coaches PAT was to receive was in 1977. These were more Flxible transit coaches but in a 30 foot length. As PAT needed 30 foot coaches and of the big 3 manufacturers at the time, only Flxible made them. PAT purchased 13 (1500-1512) of these with an option for another 10 (1513-1522). This option was exercised shortly after the arrival of the 1977 order and the remaining 10 arrived in 1978. These coaches held up better than the 1975 order of coaches did but these too had problems with rusting out. These were well liked by the operators, regardless of the rusting, due to the power that they had. Only Ross, Collier and East Liberty had these smaller buses assigned to them on the initial allocation of vehicles.

Click for larger image1978 also saw the arrival of 180 AM General transit coaches. 140 of these were 40 foot (2650-2789) and 40 were 35 foot coaches (1260-1299). These too had many problems. As delivered, the coaches were extremely difficult to steer and caused many operators to have back and shoulder related injury. The frames of the buses also started to crack a few years into their service life and had to be pulled from service as they failed for repairs. These buses also had many electrical problems as well as the rattling window problems that made the ride rather noisy. Skirt panels on these coaches also had to be replaced frequently due to the aluminum rotting out due to the contact with the steel understructure. Even with their problems, many operators preferred these coaches once the power steering was installed on them. They were extremely powerful and one of the best "go in the snow" buses ever made by any manufacturer.

Click for larger image1979 saw the arrival of twenty 55 foot articulated coaches (3000-3019) from AM General. These buses were made under agreement with MAN and purchased by PAT under a consortium purchase of many transit systems across the country. PAT had been interested in obtaining articulated coaches for a number of years since the successful testing of a MAN bus imported from Germany back in 1974. Until the AMG-MAN agreement, there was no U.S. source of articulated coaches as the Buy American laws prevented all systems from utilizing this concept. These coaches ran initially out of 3 of the 5 garages. Ross and Collier never had articulated coaches although Collier was listed as receiving some in the initial coach allocation. It is believed that the assignment to Collier was what is known as a "paper assignment" with the buses slated to go there but sent elsewhere.

These articulated buses were extremely unique to the PAT maintenance area as they were totally different from the GM standard everyone was used to. With under floor engines, articulation joints and steerable rear axles, these coaches had a long period of getting used to in order to maintain them properly.

In true PAT fashion, the articulated coaches ran on many routes that they really shouldn't have been run on. Routes like the 84A Atwood have even seen the 3000 series articulated coaches running. Part of this was due to the fact that PAT was experiencing mechanical problems with many of its older coaches to the point that if it could be started, moved and the brakes worked, the bus was sent in service. Coaches of this type were known as "red lined" which meant that they needed maintenance done on them but were still safe to operate for the public. Missed trips and buses breaking down in service were common in the late 70's. Approximately a third of the fleet was out of service at one time in one instance as the older buses, overworked by the hilly terrain of the Pittsburgh area, began to fail. Relief from this issue didn't occur until 1983.

Click for larger imageClick for larger imageOne of the major highlights associated with the MOD era were the "Extra Special" vehicles that PAT developed. There were 2 buses that received the full treatment of enlarged destination signs and a multitude of experimental features that are now commonplace on buses. There was also 3 streetcars given a European look and were known as "flat fronts". Of these 3, only one received the full complement of experimental features and was numbered as 1976. The other 2 just received the new front end on an existing body. Coaches 1037 and 2441 received the full treatment with the larger signs and all the other features of the program.

As PAT continued to promote transit, two coaches were designated for special assignment. The first was coach 1963 which became the "Roving Ambassador". This coach was used as a mobile service center as well as an instructional tool of PAT to generate public interest and inform them of the benefits of taking transit. All seats were removed and a counter was installed inside the bus. The second bus was coach 2616 which was known as the "Mobile Classroom" which made the rounds to various schools to tell the history of PAT and teach kids how to ride the bus. This coach had dark tinted windows and no fare box (one was added later as PAT needed to use it in revenue service as well). 2616 was also the best maintained of the Flxibles as it didn't see near as much service as the others. It was eventually sold to Allegheny County to be used as a book mobile but it never was converted and nobody knows what happened to it. 1963 was sold to a PAT employee who converted it to a motor home.

Another innovative program PAT instituted during the 70's was the "Access Program". This was a para-transit service provided by private carriers licensed by PAT for the service. This program became the model for many other transit systems in the Country. There were two reasons behind the Access Program. The obvious reason of allowing disable individuals the ability to go places was clear but there was also the Federal requirement that buses had to be accessible to all people if a sufficient alternative mode of transit wasn't available. By creating the Access Program, PAT was able to get out of purchasing lift equipped buses for many years during the teething pains of the early models of wheelchair lifts which were extremely unreliable.

The Early Action program was also still well underway at PAT during the 70's. By 1974, legal challenges to PAT's desire to use the Westinghouse "Skybus" were ruled upon by the courts and PAT was forced to change the program from the Skybus technology to the more conventional light rail technology. Part of the changes to the Early Action plan, made earlier, was that the existing trolley lines and equipment would be rehabilitated. In addition, the South Busway made its debut in 1977. This busway was the first of its kind and became a model for many other cities. The South Busway pointed positively to PAT's commitment to improved public transit service in Allegheny County.

It is important to note, that while funding to run the system was more readily available during this era, PAT was still very under-funded back then and the politics were much more delicate due to the controversial Early Action Program. This made the success of the MOD era under John T. Mauro and Harold H. Geisenheimer even more commendable in that they were able to succeed in the face of under-funding and the politics of the day.

The end of the MOD era occurred in 1980 with the arrival of the new GM RTS II transit buses in a new livery reminiscent of the Early Years. At this time, the last GM Old Look in PAT service was finally pulled from service (it was supposed to have been pulled from service a year earlier but was needed to help meet service). Only a handful of the former Independent Operator buses were left running and these were 516, 550-553, 572 and 580-582 as well as the ex-Wilkes-Barre bus 595. Coaches 516, 580-582 and 595 were leased out to the New Castle Area Transit Authority for a couple of years and the buses were then returned and sold off in 1982 except 580 and 581 which were returned to service and 595 which was acquired by AMCAP.

The MOD era was perhaps the best and worst of times at PAT. Items like Skybus and the Early Action Program as well as PAT's stubborn commitment to the unproven Skybus technology will no doubt be discussed for decades to come. It still is a heated subject among many. The great successes of the MOD era and what would have occurred at PAT if they didn't lose the key leaders to the MOD era's success will also be discussed as time goes on. In no other time in PAT's history has so much occurred that directly effected both riders and non-riders alike, created countless successes from a failing system, and set the system up for the slow downward spiral that has been occurring since the late 1970's.

| The Formation | The Early Years | The MOD Years | The 80's Era | The 90's Era | The Gold Era |


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This page was updated on January 29, 2006

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