Confetti filled the warm summer air Wednesday at Akron’s Robert K. Pfaff Transit Center as dozens of people sang “Happy Birthday.”

The guest of honor was the Akron Metro Regional Transit Authority, which celebrated its 50th birthday with free rides and a public party.

The day included a community vendor fair, an art gallery set up inside a bus and an opportunity to tour every type of bus in Metro’s fleet.

Metro Executive Director Dawn Distler, who started in the role in September, said the company originally operated under the name Northern Ohio Traction and Light Co. before becoming the Northern Ohio Power and Light Co., the Akron Transportation Co. and eventually Metro RTA.

Metro RTA, the public bus company, started service in August 1969. It formed that April after the Akron Transportation Co. closed its doors.

“We like to say Metro is celebrating 50 years on the road with 100 years of experience,” said Distler, who started as a Metro bus operator 32 years ago and now oversees more than 400 employees and a $55 million annual operating budget. “We watched public transit evolve from mules and horse-drawn carriages and carts and streetcars, jitneys to trackless trolley buses to diesel and now CNG [compressed natural gas]-fueled buses, and we're looking at the future and what CNG and alternative fuels can bring as well as electric vehicles."

Metro includes 36 fixed routes, which transported nearly 4.9 million passengers in 2018.

Its other services include Metro SCAT and ADA Complementary Paratransit, with a combined 270,815 passengers in 2018; Call-A-Bus; the free downtown Akron weekday shuttle DASH; and free rides for University of Akron students, faculty and staff, with 203,253 boardings in 2018, and for Akron Public Schools high school students, with 451,878 boardings in 2018.

Metro’s fleet includes 241 vehicles, with 150 large buses and 91 smaller paratransit buses.

Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro, who presented Metro with a joint proclamation with the Summit County Council, highlighted the $75,000 grant Metro received to test a door-to-door service to get workers to their jobs in northern Summit County.

“We're here to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Metro, but I have to tell you what I'm really excited about is the next 50 years,” she said.

House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes of Akron presented a commendation to Metro on behalf of the Ohio House of Representatives.

“For some people, getting around is just jumping in your car and getting there,” she said. “But for other folks, you need a little bit more assistance.”

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan proclaimed Wednesday as Metro Regional Transit Authority Day in Akron.

“That's the organization you have: dedicated to customers,” Horrigan said.

Metro Board President Robert DeJournett noted when Metro started 50 years ago, he was 7 years old.

“Over the past 50 years, we have watched public transit evolve, and we've been through many changes: changes in fleet, changes in technology, changes in funding and route changes,” he said. “But what remains the same and will not change and has not changed is our commitment to serve this community and the public and provide safe and reliable transportation to Summit County residents.”

 

Contact Emily Mills at 330-996-3334, emills@thebeaconjournal.com and @EmilyMills818.