The first public transportation in Wood County began in 1888 in Parkersburg with the introduction of horse-drawn trolley cars. Ten years later electric streetcars replaced the horses. The history of streetcar ownership and operation changed many times in the 57 years they were in service:
Before 1976 private companies in the area operated for profit and provided their own equipment and rails. The East Street Bridge across the Little Kanawha River in Parkersburg and the original Williamstown Bridge crossing the Ohio River to Marietta were constructed for use by the streetcars. At one time passengers could travel from Parkersburg to Beverly, Ohio, by streetcar through Williamstown and Marietta.
The first gasoline buses were introduced locally in 1941. For several years both buses and electric trolleys were used. On May 24, 1947, the last streetcar made a final round trip to Marietta, Ohio.
When local governments in West Virginia determine a need exists for mass transportation they are permitted by state law to form public corporations, called Transit Authorities, to provide those services. Transit authorities are publicly owned and are political subdivisions of the State. The affairs of transit systems operated by such authorities are controlled by boards of directors appointed by the local governments which participated in their formation. MOVTA’s board members are appointed by the Mayors of Parkersburg and Vienna with the consent of the Cities’ Councils. Existing ordinances state that there will be five members from Parkersburg and two from Vienna.
On March 15, 1975, Park Transit, Inc., a privately-owned company that had been running a local bus system for six years, terminated all public transit services in the area. A decline in passengers, unavailability of bus parts, and a decline in revenues were cited as reasons for the termination.
The city governments of Parkersburg and Vienna had been made aware of Park Transit’s difficulties as early as 1972. By the time operations ceased, plans were well under way to form a local Mass Transit Authority. March 26, 1975, eleven days after service ended, Parkersburg City Council approved the appointment of a five-member Board of Directors for the Parkersburg Urban Mass Transportation Authority.
November 25, 1975, the Parkersburg Council approved Chapter 5, Article 167, of the Codified Ordinances of the City of Parkersburg, and Vienna City Council adopted a similar ordinance, changing the name and creating the Mid-Ohio Valley Transit Authority (MOVTA). Vienna appointed one member to the Board of Directors to join those previously appointed by Parkersburg.
The Board commissioned a study to be done by the Cincinnati consulting firm of Vought, Sage and Pflum to determine the best way to meet the transportation needs of the area. The consultants recommended a bus system for the two cities to be operated by MOVTA but, due to the condition of Park Transit’s equipment and facilities, they recommended new buses be purchased rather than buying out the old system. In September of 1975, the first application for a grant to purchase buses and other capital items was submitted to the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA), an agency of the federal Department of Transportation. After some months of waiting and inquiries, it was learned that UMTA could not locate the application. A second application was submitted in March and approved in August of 1976.
Employees were hired and buses purchased so that service could begin in time for the Christmas season. The name Easy Rider was chosen for the new system and service started with ribbon cutting ceremonies Friday, December 3, 1976. The first three days featured free rides and 4,576 passengers were carried with five, sixteen-passenger buses.
The garage and offices were located in the rear of a building owned by Wood County at 2nd and Avery Sts. The available space was shared with the magistrate courts and the county maintenance department. Employees included the manager, a secretary, one mechanic, a mechanic/driver and six drivers.
The buses were 20-foot, 16-passenger Mercedes-Benz. Nine were regular passenger coaches and one was equipped with a lift for special paratransit service for the handicapped.
In 1985 Easy Rider moved to 213 1st Street, two blocks from where it had started. The building was purchased with funds from a federal capital grant and was renovated for use as an office and bus maintenance facility.
Included in the federal grant were funds to replace the aging fleet of Mercedes-Benz buses. An order was placed with Neoplan USA, for seven new, regular, 27-passenger coaches, and one bus equipped with a lift for the paratransit service. As an interim solution to the need for replacement buses, six 1974 Twin Coaches were acquired from Tri-State Transit Authority in Huntington at no charge and six from the Kanawha Valley Regional Transit Authority in Charleston for $1 each while the Neoplans were being built. The Neoplans were received in November of 1985.
Affordable public transportation was a significant factor in the growth of American cities. Prior to the availability of mass transit most families had to work and shop within walking distance of their homes. Urban areas began to spread out when streetcars made it possible for workers to travel greater distances to get to their jobs.