Fifty Years of Public Transportation

CityLink is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020. 

by Emily Watson, CityLink
GP Transit bus, 1970s
With their bright orange and white paint, long-time area residents will likely remember the old GP Transit buses from the 1970s. Photo by Melvin Bernero

On May 4, 1970, residents of the City of Peoria, Village of Peoria Heights, and West Peoria Township voted to form the Greater Peoria Mass Transit District (GPMTD). The federal government gave Peoria a grant to purchase new buses (33 to start), and that December, the GPMTD Board of Trustees approved an agreement to provide service in the City of East Peoria. During its first year of service, GPMTD provided 667,142 passenger rides. 

Milestones Over The Years
As the style and technology of transit buses have changed over the course of the last 50 years, so have GPMTD buses. For many years, GPMTD was known to the public as GP Transit. Long-time area residents will likely remember the old GP Transit buses from the 1970s—they were hard to miss with their bright orange and white paint. GPMTD still has one of these 1975 buses in its fleet, but it is primarily used for the annual Stuff-A-Bus food drive and other special events. 

The GP Transit moniker was changed to CityLink in 2000 to more efficiently advertise GPMTD, and the colors of the buses changed from orange and white to maroon and gray. More recently, CityLink added four New Flyer Xcelsior diesel-electric hybrid buses to its fleet. Running on a combination of diesel fuel and an electric battery, they reduce emissions up to 90 percent when compared to conventional diesel buses. Other important milestones in the 50-year history of GPMTD/CityLink: 

  • After the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed by Congress in 1990, GPMTD began to provide paratransit transportation for passengers with disabilities. Today this service is known as CityLift, a door-to-door service for individuals who do not have the functional capability to use the fixed-route system.  
  • In 2001 GPMTD entered into a contract with the City of Pekin to offer service in Pekin, North Pekin and Creve Coeur. 
  • Night service was added to the CityLink schedule in December 2002, providing service to passengers from 6:00am to 1:00am on designated routes. 
  • The off-street Transit Center, located at 407 SW Adams St. in downtown Peoria, was completed in 2003, and an extensive remodeling project of the Transit Center wrapped up earlier this year.
  • In 2018 GPMTD acquired the rural transportation service known as CountyLink, a door-to-door service for trips that begin or end in the rural part of Peoria County. 

Today, GPMTD provides three types of transportation services: CityLink fixed-route bus service, CityLift paratransit service and CountyLink rural transportation service. In FY 2019, CityLink provided an annual ridership of over 2.5 million, CityLift had a ridership of 143,844, and CountyLink had a ridership of 25,144. 

Current and Future Projects 
The public transportation industry continues to change at a rapid pace. GPMTD strives to stay up-to-date by enhancing the passenger experience with new technology, making improvements to the services it provides, and continuing its commitment to the community. 

One exciting project currently underway involves the purchase of three battery-electric buses and their accompanying charging equipment from Proterra, Inc. Two of these buses are being purchased with a $2.3 million grant received from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) as part of the Low or No Emission (Low-No) Bus Program, while the other will be purchased with the $1.23 million GPMTD received as part of the Edwards Settlement Fund Distribution. The buses are expected to be delivered in the summer of 2021. 

GPMTD is under contract with Avail Technologies for the implementation of intelligent transportation system solutions, which includes Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) software, Automatic Voice Annunciation (AVA) software, Automatic Passenger Counters (APC) software and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) software. In addition, GPMTD is currently reviewing the results of the transit study that was completed in 2019 by Nelson\Nygaard Consulting. The outcome of this study offered a five-year service improvement plan that is being used to evaluate future route and service changes. 

Finally, renovation of the current bus service lane is now underway. This is phase I of the maintenance/operations/administration facility renovation and construction project for which GPMTD received a $3.6 million grant from the FTA in 2018. Future projects planned include the procurement of Collison Avoidance System (CAS) software, dispatching software for paratransit vehicles, and new CityLift and CountyLink vehicles.

While 2020 has brought with it unexpected hurdles, the management and staff at CityLink continues to work hard to provide the Greater Peoria area with a reliable, safe and affordable public transportation option—and plans to remain a vital part of the local community for another 50 years and beyond. PM