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Twin City Lines bus strike, 1969

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Aging bus operated by Twin City Lines, ca. 1960s. Photo by the St. Paul Pioneer Press; used with permission.

Aging bus operated by Twin City Lines, ca. 1960s. Photo by the St. Paul Pioneer Press; used with permission.

In 1969, members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005 called a strike against Twin City Lines (TCL), the metropolitan area’s largest privately owned bus company. Most union members and patrons probably didn’t realize it at the time, but that strike would prove to be a critical turning point for Twin Cities public transit. It would provide the opportunity for public acquisition of the company and dramatic service improvements.

In the late 1960s, TCL was on a downward slide. It was the victim of an aging fleet, increasing fares, and declining ridership. The strike came at the start of the 1969 Christmas shopping season, when the two downtowns still were centers of retailing. As the twenty-five-day strike dragged on, Governor Harold LeVander came under increasing pressure from downtown retailers to intervene.

For years, the forces had been building for public ownership of the bus company. Its owners recognized that there were more lucrative investments than transit. Union leaders thought a public body would be easier to negotiate with than TCL’s owners. Downtown retailers and employers were desperate for a reliable transit system to serve their employees and customers. And then, Congress provided an additional incentive. In 1964, it passed legislation authorizing $375 million in grants for mass transportation.

Disenchantment with the region’s bus service had been building for years. After multiple failures, transit advocates in 1967 secured legislation creating a nine-member Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC). The legislation granted the commission broad powers to acquire and improve existing transit facilities. But the measure may have had an additional supporter behind the scenes—the owners of Minnesota Enterprises Inc. (MEI), the bus company’s corporate parent. They had lost interest in running the struggling bus company. And who else would buy it other than a public entity?

While the MTC attempted negotiations with MEI, the agency returned to the legislature in 1969 seeking authority to acquire the bus company through “quick-take” condemnation. This process would allow the agency to take control of the bus system as soon as a court-appointed panel set the price, even if the owners appealed that amount in the courts. While MEI likely opposed the idea, the condemnation provision was enacted into law.

While pursuing condemnation powers, the MTC also opposed the company’s request from the state Public Service Commission (PSC) for a 5-cent increase in TCL’s 25-cent bus fare. The company had proposed the increase in December 1968. The MTC argued that the bus company already was making a “reasonable profit.” They also argued that TCL was diverting transit revenues to its corporate parent and negatively affecting its financial results.

After twenty-seven days of hearings, the PSC granted the nickel fare increase on October 31, 1969. But the commission also criticized the company’s accounting and financial practices.

Meanwhile, the bus company and its union had been pressing up against an October 31 deadline—the expiration of their contract. The union sought an immediate salary increase of 51 cents an hour, raising the pay of drivers to four dollars an hour and mechanics to $4.16 an hour. The parties failed to reach agreement, and the union went on strike November 17.

On December 11, LeVander summoned the parties to “find out why the strike has not been settled…” During a marathon meeting, David Durenberger, LeVander’s top aide, shuttled back and forth between the company, union, and MTC. Late in the night, the company agreed to an 11-cent hourly raise. The MTC agreed to condemn TCL and to provide another 29-cent raise upon acquisition.

The MTC quickly used its condemnation powers to acquire the company and took possession on September 18, 1970. Thanks to the work of the its staff and consultants, the MTC already had in hand a thirteen-point improvement plan. It also had a federal commitment of $9.7 million to help fund the acquisition and the first-phase improvements. The first buses rolled out of their garages at 5 a.m., sporting new decals with a large white “T” (for transit) encircled in red.

The most significant feature of the MTC’s improvement plan was the purchase of ninety-three new, air-conditioned buses a year for five years. The purchases reduced the average age of the fleet from fourteen years to six years and afforded riders much-improved service.

Editor’s note: This article contains text adapted from “1969 Bus Strike: Twin Cities Mass Transit Turning Point” (Minnesota History 66, no. 7 (Fall 2019): 274–284), used here with the permission of both the publisher and the author.

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Annual Reports, 1962–68. Minnesota Enterprises Inc. Available at the Minnesota Historical Society library as HE4491.T93 T9132.

Annual Reports, 1969–78. Minnesota Enterprises Inc. Available at the Minnesota Historical Society library as HD9503.M15 A3.

Beran, George. “Bus Takeover to Begin.” St. Paul Pioneer Press, September 18, 1970.

Brennan, Dan. “In Hock Transit.” Twin Citian, July 1970.

“Bus Firm Asks Emergency Fare Increase.” Minneapolis Tribune, December 5, 1968.

Friendly, Jonathan. “Legislature Goes 2 for 3 On Major Urban Measures.” Minneapolis Tribune, June 4, 1967.

Fuller, Jim. “Bus Firm Lends $4.3 Million, Interest Free.” Minneapolis Tribune, February 20, 1969.

“Implementation of CL Transit Report.” Citizens League, October 1965.
https://citizensleague.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/PolicyReportTransportationJan-68.pdf

Johnson, Fred. “Expanding MEI Reaps Woes While Seeking Fare Rise.” Minneapolis Tribune, March 16, 1969. 1

Kelly, John. “Bus Line Blames MTC For Strike” St. Paul Pioneer Press, November 18, 1969.

Lundegaard, Bob, and Steve Dornfeld. “Panel Sets $6.5 Million Value on Twin City Lines.” Minneapolis Tribune, August 20, 1970.

“MTC to Pay $7.5 Million for Bus Line.” Minneapolis Star, July 31, 1975.

“MTC Asks To Seize Bus Line.” Minneapolis Tribune, December 27, 1969.

Newlund, Sam. “MTC Consultant Urges Public Bus Ownership.” Minneapolis Tribune, October 23, 1969.

——— . “Businessmen Seek Bus Accord.” Minneapolis Tribune, November 20, 1969.

——— . “Buses Roll Again in Cities; MTC Votes for Takeover.” Minneapolis Tribune, December 12, 1969.

Pinney, Greg. “MTC Seeks Talks on Acquisition of Twin City Lines.” Minneapolis Tribune, February 22, 1969.

“PSC Authorizes Bus Fare Rise.” Minneapolis Tribune, November 1, 1969.

“Transit Problem in the Twin Cities Area.” Citizens League, April 1965, 19.
https://citizensleague.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/PolicyReportTransportationApril-65.pdf

Related Images

Aging bus operated by Twin City Lines, ca. 1960s. Photo by the St. Paul Pioneer Press; used with permission.
Aging bus operated by Twin City Lines, ca. 1960s. Photo by the St. Paul Pioneer Press; used with permission.
Fleet of new, air conditioned buses purchased by the MTC in the early 1970s, after the commission acquired Twin City Lines. Photo by the St. Paul Pioneer Press; used with permission.
Fleet of new, air conditioned buses purchased by the MTC in the early 1970s, after the commission acquired Twin City Lines. Photo by the St. Paul Pioneer Press; used with permission.
Aging bus operated by Twin City Lines, ca. 1960s. Photo by the St. Paul Pioneer Press; used with permission.
Aging bus operated by Twin City Lines, ca. 1960s. Photo by the St. Paul Pioneer Press; used with permission.
A transit worker applies a “T” (for transit) decal to one of the old Twin City Lines buses before being sent out on the streets under new management for the first time in September 1970. All of the former TCL buses were eventually repainted a solid red before until they were replaced. Photo by the St. Paul Pioneer Press; used with permission.
A transit worker applies a “T” (for transit) decal to one of the old Twin City Lines buses before being sent out on the streets under new management for the first time in September 1970. All of the former TCL buses were eventually repainted a solid red before until they were replaced. Photo by the St. Paul Pioneer Press; used with permission.

Turning Point

In 1967, the legislature creates a Metropolitan Transit Commission with broad powers to acquire and improve transit. Two years later, the legislature gives the commission power to acquire transit facilities through condemnation.

Chronology

1891

Twin City Rapid Transit Company (later renamed Twin City Lines) is established. At its peak, the company operated more than 900 streetcars, owned 523 miles of tracks, and carried more than 200 million riders a year.

1951

With ridership in decline, the company begins the conversion from streetcars to buses. In the conversion process, the company is looted by its president and others. They are convicted on mail fraud, conspiracy, and other charges.

1962

The bus company’s new owner, Minnesota Enterprises Inc. (MEI), embarks on a “diversification” strategy, channeling bus revenues into more lucrative investments. Meanwhile, it purchases no new buses between 1954 and 1963.

1964

Congress approves legislation authorizing $375 million in grants to state and local governments to improve mass transportation, a funding source that would later be tapped to improve transit in the Twin Cities.

1965

Frustrated by the lack of adequate bus service, separate studies by the Citizens League and a task force appointed by Governor Karl Rolvaag recommend the creation of a metropolitan transit commission.

1968

Twin City Lines submits a request for a nickel fare increase to Minnesota Public Service Commission, which both the MTC and the city of Minneapolis oppose.

1969

On October 31, the Public Service Commission grants the nickel fare increase, but sharply criticizes the company’s financial practices. It orders the company to “initiate a definite program to improve transit service.”

1969

Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union 1005 go on strike on November 17, demanding better wages for drivers and mechanics.

1969

MTC officials travel to Washington on November 18 to obtain assurances that federal aid would be available to acquire and improve the bus company.

1969

During a marathon meeting held on December 11, Governor Harold LeVander helps broker a strike settlement that includes a commitment by the MTC to acquire the bus company through condemnation.

1969

On December 26, the MTC files its condemnation petition in Hennepin County District Court and a panel of three commissioners is appointed to set the value of the company.

1970

The condemnation panel returns with an order awarding MEI $6.51 million for the bus company on August 19. Both parties appeal the amount in the courts and the case is not settled until 1975, when the MTC agrees to pay MEI $7.5 million.

1970

The MTC takes control of Twin City Lines on September 18 as buses roll out sporting new decals with a large white “T” for transit encircled in red. The company’s buses are repainted a solid red but are gradually replaced with new, air-conditioned buses.