Kalamazoo City Lines Co.
"Safety and Courtesy"
“Ride the Bus and Avoid Parking Fuss”
A comprehensive history of Kalamazoo’s various modes of transportation would be incomplete without a brief summary of the Kalamazoo City Lines Company, the city’s primary mass transit option from the 1930s to the 1960s.
Not unlike today, those in the past who could not afford to drive an automobile, relied upon the Kalamazoo City Lines Co. bus service to be able to attend to their everyday needs. With the expansion of automobile use, electric streetcars were eliminated in 1932, leaving an open market to address the needs of those unable to afford a car. Incorporated in November of 1932 under the name of the Kalamazoo Motor Coach Company, the firm switched names in April of 1936. A year later, the company moved its local headquarters from 543 W. Michigan Ave. to 462 Portage St. after the Orrin B. Hayes automobile dealership purchased the land. The principal office of the concern was located in Chicago, with a president of E.R. Fitzgerald, but the first local manager was Charles A. Blaney. The company was an affiliate of National City Lines.
The KCLC was the first to focus their commercial services on city-wide routes, rather than charter companies that moved customers to destinations outside of the city. In October 1939, after six years of working under 1-year contracts with the city, the company petitioned to establish a 10-year agreement that would see the company franchised. Commissioner William Shakespeare, a longtime advocate of municipal ownership of bus transportation, along with Mayor Arthur L. Blakeslee backed the proposal that went to the voters on the 7th of November. Prior to the election, city officials were able to successfully negotiate for a cheaper fare, with the company agreeing upon a maximum price of five cents. Before the election, the bus company campaigned aggressively, including placing advertisements in the newspaper, urging citizens to vote ‘yes’ on the proposal, stating, “We wish to announce a guarantee of 5c FARES, Modern Equipment and contemplated improvements in our garage building with modernized machinery. Better working conditions for our employees, and always friends of Labor.” Widely endorsed by civic and business leaders in the community, the voters overwhelming voted for the plan to move forward.
“Twenty-five local buses cover about 70,000 miles each month in serving Kalamazoo. Six of the older buses here are being shipped to Tulsa, Okla. and replaced by new transit or street car types of buses. Every effort is made not only to maintain fast and punctual service, but to keep equipment looking its best, as well. More than half of the company’s 50 local employees are men who ran street cars in the old days.”
–Kalamazoo Gazette, 24 January 1937
Over the next several decades, the company’s bus service made the news for the occasional accident involving a bus, periodic upgrades to newer bus models, personal injury lawsuits, fare, schedule and route modifications, and company banquets and awards for safety. In 1940, the company moved yet again, this time to a new facility at S. Pitcher and E. Walnut streets. During the war years, residents used buses to alleviate wear and tear on their automobile’s tires. By 1952, there were seven bus routes crisscrossing over much of the city, including routes that connected riders to nearby Parchment.
At the end of 1966, Kalamazoo City Lines Company ceased their bus service in Kalamazoo after a November 8th election where voters approved a city charter amendment that moved bus service under the control and management of the City of Kalamazoo. The city had applied for and been granted funding ($1 million) from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that helped the city to purchase a new fleet of 34 buses. Many of the employees of KCLC remained with the city, becoming municipal employees on January 1st, 1967. The city then proceeded to reach out to the Board of Education in order to form a contract that detailed how KPS students would be transported to and from their schools.
Written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, November 2023
“City buses–street cars surrender after half a century”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 24 January 1937
“People will vote on bus franchise Nov. 7, decision”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 18 July 1939
“Bus franchise easy winner”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 8 November 1939
“Bus service in Kalamazoo”
Kalamazoo Magazine, May 1964, p.17
“Bus company here may halt service”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 25 October 1966, page 1, column 1
Local History Room Files
Subject File: Kalamazoo City Lines, Inc.