The Ohio Museum of Transportation
Ohio's Transit History
This article was written by one of the Ohio Museum of Transportation members in 1970 and originally appeared in the February 1971 issue of the Motor Bus Society's publication Motor Coach Age. Due to it's size, it has been broken down by each individual carrier. We wish to thank the author for allowing us to post his article on our site.
Cleveland Suburban Buses - Berea Bus Line Co
By David B. Decsman
Owing to it's location on a wide, gently sloping plain, to it's industrial and commercial character, and most importantly to the fact that electric interurban railroads and not steam roads carried people to the surrounding towns years ago, Cleveland has bus lines radiating from the city center to outlying suburbs in all directions. The suburban operations are unusual in being completely independent from one another and from any larger companies, though some are basically one-route carriers, but even more unusual is the fact that many are publicly owned. In fact, public ownership came to some of the suburban lines even before Cleveland Transit System (CTS) succeeded from the old Cleveland Railway back in 1942.
In addition to seven suburban operations in business now, four others have been absorbed over the years by CTS. The extent of knowledge about some of these 11 operators is not great, but in this article we attempt to put them all together so that their separate stories will add up to a history of suburban bus service in Cleveland.
This section of the article looks at the Berea Bus Line Company.
Berea Bus Line Co.
Another company started as a result of action by the Cleveland Southwestern was Berea Bus Line Co., the area's oldest carrier. Interurban service was rerouted to a new right-of-way east of the town of Berea in 1918, and in the following year, Lyle R. Slater started a new bus service along the main street, where the cars had been, and north along the interurban to Brookpark Road, from which point passengers rode the interurban cars to West 98th & Lorain. Henry W. Wilchek became Slater's partner in 1919, and they formed Berea Bus Line Co. in 1920.
Bus service was extended east on Brookpark Road and north on West 130th Street to Lorain Avenue in June 1922, and then east to the interurban-streetcar transfer point at West 98th Street in November. This gave access to Cleveland Railway Co. routes, but also gave a rather slow ride to Public Square, and so in February 1923 the Lorain Avenue line was given up and direct service to downtown Cleveland was inaugurated. A 1½ mile extention from West Street to Spraque Road at the Berea end of the line made the 15½ miles long altogether in 1928, at which time (and for 25 years thereafter) the cash fare was 35 cents.
Henry Wilchek's brother Frank and his nephew R.L. Weber were active in Berea's management by that time and remained in control of the company from then on. Weber became president in 1943, and in an interview two years later he recalled many interesting aspects of Berea's first quarter century. All but two of the buses up to that time had been Whites, starting with primative model 20's and 40's and proceeding through the later models 50, 54 and 810 to the 788-1's used on the regular route and W-18-B's holding down school runs at the end of the war. The school service had been started in 1923, with three of the original buses assigned to it, and it had grown from 80 to 450 riders a day in 22 years.
Some time after the war, local service within Berea was put on, principally to serve Baldwin-Wallace College. The growth of the suburban area in the postwar years increased rush-hour travel to and from Public Square, but even more important, there was a mushrooming growth in school business. The company became the agent of the Berea School District and thus began to provide service to all the schools in the area. By 1952, Berea had one charter bus, two local buses, 15 line buses, and seven school buses, and at about that time the mechanics who used to drive the school buses for their brief periods of need were replaced by Baldwin-Wallace students.
By the late 1950's, in spite of the growth in importance of Cleveland-Hopkins Airport as a revenue factor for Berea Bus Line, school service was three times as great as line service in terms of passengers carried--4500 a day against 1500 on the regular route. The division of revenue was 51 percent regular route, 27 percent contract school buses, 15 percent charter, 6 percent outside maintenance work, and 1 percent package express. One of the reasons why suburban riding was static or even declining in these years was the presence of the West Side rapid transit line of the Cleveland Transit System, opened to West 117th & Madison in 1955 and extended to West 144th & Lorain (West Park station) in 1958. The extention, particularly, did Berea Bus Line no good at all. The much faster running time of the rapid transit trains, and the presence of extensive free parking lots at the station, proved effective competition to the buses.
However, while talk of a rapid transit extention to the airport was beginning, construction of Interstate 71 along Berea's route was well underway, and the highway opened in 1966. At that time, Berea Bus Line was assigning 13 buses to the suburban line and carrying 1800 people a day; 28 school buses were carrying 4700 students. "We are embarking on an entirely new concept in transportation for this area--rubber-tired rapid transit," said Rudy Weber. "With I-71 now open, we have at least a year's jump in the rapid transit line to acclimate our customers to our new turnpike express way of travel. We think this will convince them that traveling by bus is best. Besides reducing traveling time for our main-line riders from 50 minutes to 25 via I-71, our buses practically pick them up at the door and let them off in front of their place of business, something the rapid transit connot accomplish."
By the end of 1967, however, Berea Bus Line was reading from a different test, and when CTS agreed to buy the company for $400,000, Weber said, "We feel this will be a great improvement to the city of Berea and the adjoining communities. Berea residents will gain immeasurably." What they gained, of course, was a transfer privilege to the rapid transit line on new Rt 86-Berea Express, effective February 1, 1968, and much faster service to Public Square when the airport extention of the rapid transit line finally opened in the following November. Only three Berea buses were taken into the CTS fleet, the older line buses sold or scrapped, newer ones sold off, and school buses left behind for a new operator.
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