Our History

50th anniversary buses

The first public transportation system in Dayton operated 36 years before the first area electric light was turned on and 41 years before the first paved street was completed! The Omnibus Line, which began in 1847, took passengers between Dayton and Cincinnati for $2 and took seven hours to complete a trip.

In 1869, the Dayton Street Rail Road began building its first horsecar line marking the first local transportation option.

The horsecar line provided the real birth of public transportation for Dayton residents. On its first day of operation on May 2, 1870, six horse-drawn horsecars proceeded west on Third Street. The first car carried the Odd Fellows Band; the second car was filled with railway officers and members of the press. The other cars provided a thrilling ride for "ladies and gentlemen of the area." For one year, the Dayton Street Railway Company provided the only public transportation of its kind in Dayton.

The travel time on the Dayton Street Rail Road from West Third Street at Western Avenue to East Third Street at Findlay Street took 1 hour and 20 minutes. The same service today would take around 20 minutes.

From 1871 to 1880, the Dayton View Street Railway, the Oakwood Street Railway, the Wayne and Fifth Street Railroad Company and the Fifth Street Railway Company began service from downtown to (then) outlying sections of Dayton. Main line railroad service had begun in January 1851 when the Mad River and Lake Erie line began offering transportation between Dayton and Springfield.

Even in the age where electricity and telephones were yet unheard of in Dayton, residents began to see and utilize the advantages of public transportation in their area.

On Aug. 8, 1888, the first electric line began service in Dayton. It was operated by the White Line Electric Street Railway Company with 12 electric cars going into service. The system was built by the Van DePoele Electric Railway Company of Chicago and offered free rides to area residents during the first week of operation. These early electric cars had incandescent lamps in the passenger compartments and a sloping channel system running from the rear of the car to a bucket in the drivers cab for fare collection.

Shortly after operation of the new  cars began, the working mules of the Oakwood line started "tap-dancing" on their tracks whenever a White Line car ran nearby as the lines shared tracks downtown.  Witnesses reported that sparks actually shot out of the mules’ tails!  After Oakwood officials hauled the White Line into court with a stop order, this freak show was resolved by electrically bonding the mule-car tracks together. This stopped the electric currents from leaking into surrounding moist earth and traveling through the mule's iron shoes into their bellies and out their tails. No more tap-dancing mules.

From the start of the White Line, the other four horsecar lines converted most of their operations to electricity from 1890 to 1896. Also, there was consolidation of operations. In 1872, the Oakwood Street Railway combined with the Dayton View Railway. In 1893, City Railway was formed from the Dayton Street Rail Road (Third St), the Fifth Street Railway and the Red Line (an electric line started in 1890 which ran on the west side from the end of the Fifth St. Railway to the VA Home).  The White Line bought the Wayne and Fifth in 1896, and combined to form People’s Railway.  People’s ran the last horsecar in the city running from the People’s carbarn at Wayne and Wyoming to the Asylum. This line was not converted to electricity until Feb 1899.

In October 1895, the Dayton Traction opened its interurban line to Calvary Cemetery, forming the basis of a local streetcar service they would continue to operate until 1941. Other interurbans began operations in Dayton by the turn of the century, and the Dayton & Xenia Railway began a local streetcar service to Ohmer Park in 1909. Also in 1909, the Dayton Street Railway began operations from Linden/Santa Cruz to Salem/Philadelphia.

When the first automobile arrived in Dayton in 1900, transportation continued to play an important role in the city’s development. The six local streetcar lines continued to operate through the 1920s. On Aug. 24, 1932, the Dayton Street Railway’s carbarn on the east side burned to the ground, resulting in the loss of 16 cars. DSRy leased several cars from City Railway to continue operations. DSRy decided to change their operations to the (then newfangled) trolley bus and began trolley bus operations in Dayton on April 22, 1933.

DSRy trolley bus operations were a success, and over the next 14 years, four of the remaining streetcar lines converted to trolley bus – the lone holdout, the Dayton Suburban (descendant of the original Dayton Traction) converted to gas buses in 1941. The last electric streetcar operation in Dayton was on Nov. 23, 1947.

As time went on, the six local streetcar operators also consolidated. City Railway purchased the Dayton Street Transit in 1941 and the People’s Railway in 1945. Subsequently, City Railway purchased Dayton-Xenia in 1955, forming City Transit, and merged with Oakwood Street Railway in 1956. City Transit operated most of the local bus service through the 1960s and early 1970s. 

For these 17 years from 1955-1972, City Transit enjoyed growth sparked by the low-cost need for public transportation during the war years. However, once the affordability of privately-owned automobiles became real, ridership declined. By the 1970's, losses forced City Transit to increase fares twice and eliminate service after 10 p.m. and on Sunday. By 1970, fares had risen to 35 cents compared to 15 cents just 10 years earlier. Operating costs were up by more than 32 percent.

With these continued revenue and service losses, in 1970, the cities of Dayton, Oakwood and Kettering passed emergency ordinances to create a regional transit authority designed to supervise the existing franchise agreement between the cities and City Transit Company. It was decided that a one-mil property tax was necessary to fund the authority. Despite opposition from Kettering, state law outlined that taxing property was the only method available to transit authorities at the time. On Oct. 1, 1971, area residents overwhelmingly approved a one-mil real estate tax to fund public transportation. The Miami Valley Regional Transit Authority took over operations from City Transit and began operating the transit system on Nov. 5, 1972.

From its birth in 1972 to the opening of its new Longworth Street operating facility in 1980, the RTA continued to expand and develop transportation services for the community. As population growth began to occur outside the city of Dayton, there was a need to expand services. In order to support the increased service area, the RTA fleet had to expand, and additional funds were needed to fund operations. To support the increased service area, an additional 1.75-mil tax levy was approved in 1976 to increase service, and was later replaced by a half cent sales tax levy approved by area voters in 1980 to expand the service footprint to serve Montgomery County. This vote of confidence set the stage for continued public transportation in Dayton and Montgomery County for many years to come. In 2002, RTA’s Board of Trustees voted to change the name to the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority.

By 2007, the authority recognized a need for a better downtown solution for transit customers and conceived and planned the Wright Stop Plaza Transit Center to occupy private property next to the existing downtown office tower on Main Street. With help from the City of Dayton, Montgomery County, Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission and from key federal representatives like U.S. Rep. Mike Turner and U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, support and much-needed dollars helped turn the former Market Street area into a state-of-the-art transit center and resolved the issues of excessive bus queuing along Main and Third Streets and pedestrian traffic flow in downtown’s core area.

The Wright Stop Plaza Transit Center was the final element of RTA’s master plan to enhance and improve the quality of transit services downtown. The project embodied a future-minded, full-service regional transit center with improved accessibility and amenities for customers as well as a welcome boost to downtown Dayton’s economic development.

In November 2022, RTA celebrated its 50th anniversary and hosted several celebratory events.