A short history of the RTD
Story by Mr. RTD
50mm staff writer
I go by the name of MR.RTD and am a historian on yes you guessed it the history of the bus system so remembered in the Los Angeles of the 80’s to many people, especially the writers and riders of the time.
But lets go back for a quick time machine ride through LA transit past.
Until 1958 there were two main competing rail and bus systems owned as private railroads.
The first was the vast Pacific Electric Railway (Subsidiary to the Southern Pacific railroad) known as the “Big Red Car” system as the trolleys and buses were painted in red paint schemes operating to all points of Southern California. Pacific Electric built the first LA Subway line and Toluca Yard, which is now known as the Belmont Tunnel.
The smaller system that operated local transit service in Los Angeles was the Los Angeles Railway later Los Angles Transit Lines known as the “Yellow Car” system of street trolleys, and buses.
In 1958 the state of California reorganized the PE successor company Metropolitan Coach Lines and Los Angeles Transit Lines into the first publicly owned system in LA. It was known as the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Agency that painted everything they ran in a two-tone green scheme borrowed from the MCL system they bought out.
Previous to public ownership these systems were non-subsidized private concerns. When the ridership dropped off after World War Two and the automobile culture blossomed it was too late to upgrade the lines, and as history told they gradually fell into abandonment through all sorts of political maneuvers and private backhanded deals.
It was a sad shame that public ownership came so late for Los Angeles when most of the vast rail networks were gone. It took LAMTA until March 31st 1963 to get rid of the last streetcar lines in a city fixated with the automobile. Other cities such as New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston had been publicly owned for many years and with government money they were able to upgrade and rebuild the rail lines they had.
After the LAMTA’s short run from 1958-1964 it was reorganized into the Southern California Rapid Transit District becoming a local government agency that ran the bus system as well as beginning plans for a “Rapid Transit” system such as Monorail, or new rail systems. It took a long time but the rails did begin to return to LA however at great expense.
The RTD ran from 1964 to 1993 and ran in several major paint schemes from the earlier Yellow/Saddletan/White, to the famed “Tri-Stripe” look of the 1980’s of a Black and White bus (Earlier ones had the lower parts painted gray) with 3M reflective Red/Orange/Yellow stripes across the sides and a logo known as “The Snowflake” gracing the front and sides of the buses.
In 1993 the RTD was merged (more like murdered) with the lesser known agency charged with building LA’s new rail system known as the Los Angeles County Transit Commission. At that time the combined system was named the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a name it is still known as today under the designer “Metro” system complete with a bootleg logo copied from the famed New york City Transit Authority.
My interest is in the era when I grew up riding the buses everywhere and the things I saw in them, which later blossomed into involvement with bus restorations.
The RTD buses of the 80’s had a definite style to them as the RTD was running buses of all sorts across the system. From the old 1970’s General Motors buses, into the German built Neoplan Double Decker, and M.A.N Articulated’s (A two section bus on an accordion like hinge) to Minirides to you name it they had it.
It was an interesting time to have been in LA and explored it the way I did.
As the 80’s wore on the phenomena of tagging became more and more visible. Tagging was nothing new. Buses were scribed in the 1960/70’s mostly with gang markings but the trend was there and would go on to more elaborate and visible means.
As a rider I did not care for the scribing and had a great time replacing scribed windows and interior parts to the factory appearances during gigs when I was working as a bus restorations in recent years.
To the riding public, drivers, officials, and RTD Transit Police there was no love for the tagging. As the “Problem of graffiti” exploded in 1988 the RTD Police were given funding to create a new and elite unit of undercover officers known as the Graffiti Habitual Offender Suppression Team aka “G.H.O.S.T teams” that would set up surveillance on certain spots well known as spots used for mobbing buses.
Locations like Terminal.28 (RTD bus terminal under the 10 Freeway at Broadway & 17th in Downtown LA) and other key bus stops were targets of writers and eventually the G.H.O.S.T teams that would carry out raids on the crews and taggers using the buses as canvas.
During this time the RTD “Tri-Stripe” paint scheme was changed to an all white with one red, one orange stripe. This became known as the “Two Stripe” scheme. The reason for the switch was the 3M reflective “Tri-Stripes” would get ruined when they were buffed.
The newer paint colors were the first in the United States to feature a coated paint that could be buffed clean and not damage the appearance. This was incorporated with RTD’s policy at one point of not allowing any visibly tagged buses on the street, or sending in buses just tagged up. Leaving crowds of displaced riders waiting at bus stops.
After this system known as “Zero Tolerance” effectively buffed most hits newer taggers would turn back to scribing. This again became a massive problem for the agency that spent untold amounts of money replacing windows. It was argued that the bus service began to suffer with the amount of money that was forced into graffiti cleanup and repair.
With the change to the LACMTA the magic of the old RTD was lost as the new agency went to every length to destroy the RTD image and logo. The present day MTA is a small reminder of the great transit system there once was.
We are left with a few reminders today of the era when Los Angeles bus riding and for those that wrote on it was a fun system. To some of those interested comparisons are made to the old timers that remember the old Pacific Electric system and loved that as much as we enjoy the RTD era.