TARC Celebrates 40 Years, Looks Ahead to All-Electric ZeroBus

November 11, 2014

Displaying an anniversary-themed “ruby” bus that revisits the past next to an all-electric bus of the future, TARC today celebrated 40 years of providing public transportation in Louisville.

“Since 1974 when local voters approved funding for TARC, our passengers have been on 638 million trips and our buses have traveled 390 million miles,” said J. Barry Barker, executive director of TARC.  “TARC is proud to be connecting thousands of people every day to jobs, educational opportunities, and everything life has to offer while also providing community benefits including cleaner air and less congestion.”

Barker, who has been executive director of TARC for 20 of its 40 years, was joined by federal, state and local leaders, and community partners at TARC’s Union Station headquarters to celebrate the anniversary and the arrival of TARC’s first all-electric, zero-emissions “ZeroBus.”

 “TARC is grateful for the federal, state and local funding support for the electric buses and the many other innovative upgrades we’ve been making to improve service. Our ability to make capital investments and provide the service our community needs depends on grant funding,” he said.

“The Federal Transit Administration is proud to partner with TARC to bring cleaner, more reliable buses to Louisville, where thousands of residents rely on public transit every day to get to work, school and other important destinations,” said FTA Acting Administrator Therese McMillan. “These new, state-of-the-art buses will offer an attractive, convenient option for riders accessing the downtown area, while also reducing emissions and improving local air quality.”

A fleet of 10 ZeroBus vehicles will be on the road in downtown Louisville around the end of the year, when the charging stations are completed and the fleet tested. The ZeroBus fleet will replace the aging Toonerville II trolleys, TARC’s highest polluting vehicles.  Like the trolleys, ZeroBus rides will be fare-free on the routes along the Main, Market and Fourth street corridors.

The ZeroBus fleet is an $11 million investment, including 10 vehicles and two on-route charging stations, now under construction.  Funding includes $4.4 million from a Federal Transit Administration Clean Fuels Program grant, $4.4 million from the state of Kentucky in federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program funds, and $500,000 from Metro Louisville.

“Zero-emission TARC buses embody what our Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program is all about – ‘congestion mitigation’ because TARC transit buses take the place of multiple passenger vehicles on Louisville streets, and ‘air quality’ because they run exhaust-free,” Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Mike Hancock said.

“A robust public transit system is a key component to a thriving 21stcentury city,” Mayor Greg Fischer said. “We look forward to the clean, all-electric buses and continued work on more improvements and innovation in Louisville’s public transit system.”

"For the past four decades, TARC has provided Louisvillians with a simple and efficient way to commute, and in the process helped improve our air quality and enhance public safety. I'm proud to support the federal investments that are helping TARC innovate and move into the future, and I look forward to the next 40 years," Congressman John Yarmuth said.  

The Nov. 5, 1974 referendum, the last time Jefferson County voters approved a tax increase, provided .02 percent of occupational tax revenues for TARC, or two dollars for every $1,000 earned.  The tax today generates about $45 million a year and remains TARC’s primary operating funding source.

TARC’s “ruby” anniversary-themed bus, which will travel on TARC routes through 2015, displays a new TARC logo on the exterior with the message, “On the roll since 1974” and historic images of TARC vehicles on the interior.  Ruby is the traditional symbol of a 40th anniversary.

Highlights from TARC’s 40 years:

  • 1974 – With private mass transit operators going out of business, Louisville voters approve a .02 percent increase in occupational taxes for public transportation
  • 1975–1977 – With federal funding help, TARC launches downtown circulator and suburban routes and purchases new buses.  Peak-time fare is 50 cents; off-peak, 25 cents
  • 1980 – TARC opens renovated headquarters at Union Station
  • 1981-1986 - Access to public transportation for people with disabilities is a continuing focus.  While TARC began adding wheelchair-accessible buses in 1981, the fleet was largely inaccessible and citizens organized and protested in 1986, chaining wheelchairs to the doors and blocking buses on the streets
  • 1987 – Toonerville II Trolley bus service begins on Fourth Street, bringing trolley service back to downtown Louisville after nearly 40 years
  • 1990 – Coinciding with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) TARC introduces new low-floor, ramp-equipped buses and two years later, TARC3 paratransit service begins
  • 1995-1999 - TARC buses become YMCA Safe Place sites, becoming among the first agencies to participate in that initiative; the Nia Neighborhood Jobs Center opens and bike racks are introduced on buses
  • 2000 – TARC begins a partnership with the University of Louisville that allows students, employees and staff to ride fare-free. This is followed in ensuing years in similar partnerships with Louisville Metro Government and Humana.
  • 2001 – First Friday Gallery Hop launches as a partnership between TARC and the downtown business community, followed in 2004 by the F.A.T. (Frankfort Avenue Trolley) Friday Hop
  • 2003 – TARC concludes a study to bring light rail to Louisville by 2007, a project known as T2, for Transportation Tomorrow. It’s ultimately shelved due to a lack of financial support
  • 2004 - TARC introduces hybrid-electric buses
  • 2010 – Due to the economic downturn, TARC eliminates routes and reduces service. A Maintenance and Training Annex opens and receives Gold LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for energy-saving and conservation features
  • 2013 – eTran (Enhanced Transit) launches, with funding from the Ohio River Bridges Project, for new Wi-Fi equipped commuter coaches and other improvements. TARC joins Google Transit for easy on-line trip planning and becomes active on social media
  • 2014 – TARC introduces the all-electric, zero-emission ZeroBus, followed in 2015 with an electronic fare-collection system allowing passengers to pay their fares with “tap and go” smartcard technology