Buses were once only for the wealthy
By Jonathan Beatima and Feride Aydin - Staff Reporters
Buses are often viewed these days as transportation for the less affluent, but originally hopping on a bus was the privilege of the rich, a Highline professor explained April 24.
Economics and statistics professor James Peyton spoke at History Seminar about the transformation of civilization's original mass transit and how it is not a new idea.
The light rail coming in 2024 to Highline College is part of just the latest attempt to keep people moving efficiently.
The History Seminar is a weekly event at which Highline faculty, staff or guests speak on various topics of interest.
Peyton outlined this history of mass transit and how it ultimately led up to the light rail.
He defined urban mass transit to have the following characteristics: multiple people, fixed routes, set fares, passenger boarding and disembarking at different locations, predictable schedules, lots of people going to concentrated locations, longer than walk- able distances, and a differentiated economy.
In his research, he found that the first occurrence of mass transit was a service provided by a French bathhouse in 1826.
The owners created the omnibus, a wagon designed to hold 16 to 18 people.
This wagon was pulled by three horses and had a wide wheelbase to prevent it from overturning.
They would have a shuttle to take their customers from a set location to the bathhouse. The problem was, people would take the shuttle and get off at different places before reaching the bathhouse.
Paris adopted this idea in 1827 for the sole purpose of transportation.
By the year 1829, omnibuses were appearing in Berlin, Sydney, Toronto, Shanghai, and New York.
In 1833, John Mason introduced the world to the horse car in Lower Manhattan.
The horse car was a combination of the omnibus and a rail system. The advantage of this was less horsepower, smoother rides, and the ability to transport more people. By 1860, 36 million New Yorkers were riding horse cars yearly.
In 1889, Frank Osgood introduced electric streetcars in Seattle. In 1918, the city of Seattle bought all the streetcar lines and by 1936 owned 410 streetcars with 231 miles of track.
Along the way came a version of today's internal combustion engine bus or motor bus, which allowed buses to operate independently.
It was during this time that the advent of the personal automobile switched the usage of the bus systems from something for the rich and changed the rider demographic to the lower classes.
By the mid 20th century, King County was predicted to have a population of 2 million.
This was due to an increase in job opportunities with major businesses growing such as Boeing.
The county had to plan for rapid transit.
James Ellis, a civic activist in the mid 20th century who was concerned about this growth and quality of life in the Seattle area, started the Forward Thrust movement. This movement sent 17 initiatives to King County voters.
In particular, the rapid transit bill required $385 million from regional taxpayers and $765 million through government through the Federal Mass Transit Act.
This proposal would've helped create 49 miles of track connecting Lake City, Renton, Seattle, and Bellevue.
However, the Rapid Transit ballot issue fell short of the supermajority of 60 percent needed to approve the funding for mass transit.
In 1996, Puget Sound voters approved the Sound Move Plan. This 10-year plan approved a budget of $3.9 billion for light rails, buses, and commuter rails.
It created 22 miles of track between the University of Washington and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
In 2016 a ballot initiative to expand the light rail was approved. Sound Transit's latest expansion of commuter rail, light rail, and buses is expected to cost at least $54 billion, expand the light rail track to 62 miles long, and will connect Everett, Tacoma, West Seattle, and Ballard.
The agency hopes to finish the project by 2041, Peyton said.
In 2018, the Sound Transit system had more than 48 million riders.