This article is written and provided by TANK.
The Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK) celebrated a milestone birthday in November marking 50 years transporting Northern Kentuckians to work, school, shopping and events.
Earlier in the year, the company took some time to have a little fun and to take a look back over where they’ve been. They invited the community to a ‘70s-themed party at their Fort Wright headquarters in September. Along with music and food, the event shared a timeline and included a look at retro buses and TANK memorabilia over the years. It was a time to reflect on the company’s past, and the history it has created within the community.
Joining a rich history of transportation in our area
The first TANK buses rolled onto our streets in 1972, joining a long history of various forms of transportation reaching back more than 200 years. At first horse drawn carts transported people and goods between Northern Kentucky communities and back and forth across the early bridges. The first electric streetcars were in operation by 1889, and by the turn of the century, several private streetcar companies served our area.
By the 1920s, the streetcar companies had begun to transform into independent bus services. On the Cincinnati side of the river, the beautiful Dixie Terminal Building opened in 1921 to accommodate streetcar and, later, bus traffic back and forth across the river.
The Cincinnati, Newport & Covington Transportation Company started out as a horse carriage business. Over the years the company changed hands a few times and grew by landing lucrative contracts and acquiring many of its competitors. The Covington-based company painted its street cars green to distinguish them from the bright orange cars of its larger competitor across the river. From this, the company became known to all as the Green Line Transportation Company. Although this was not its official name, it became the Green Line to its generations of passengers and staff.
Building a legacy of public service
Bus companies in the US were private businesses subject to the ups and downs of the market. Although companies hit their heyday during the postwar boom, by the 1960s, many were struggling financially. Recognizing the importance of transportation in terms of economic vitality and development, the federal government passed the Mass Transportation Act in 1964, providing subsidies and clearing the way for public transportation.
In June of 1971, the governments of Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties authorized the formation of the Transportation Authority of Northern Kentucky and passed a bond issue in 1972 to fund the operation. In November of 1972, TANK officially took over for the Green Line and began a half century of service to the community.
Establishing permanent funding was challenging during the 1970s. Recognizing its important role in ensuring people had transportation to work, shop and go to school, the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce formed a Blue-Ribbon Committee in 1976 to find permanent funding to support the transit service. Employees and friends of TANK went door to door to build support during the November elections of 1978, finally garnering the funds needed to keep the TANK service going.
In 1982 the company moved from its Newport facility to newly constructed headquarters in Fort Wright. The TANK office headquarters and garage continue at that location at 3375 Madison Pike. Today, TANK also operates the Covington Transportation Center at 220 Madison Avenue in Covington.
The late 1980s and early 1990s were a period of refurbishment for TANK. The company replaced many of its vehicles with newer models. In 1984 the company expanded service into downtown Cincinnati with the “downtown connection.” Responding to the needs of the surrounding community, the company underwent its first major expansion of services in 1995, adding routes to the Airport, Empire Drive, Walton, Hebron and Burlington.
Enhancing service for commuters and students
In 1996 TANK said goodbye to the Dixie Terminal in favor of operating buses along downtown Cincinnati streets. This move made it more convenient for downtown commuters to catch their bus to and from home just a few steps away from their downtown offices. The move also made it easier to catch connections further into Cincinnati.
In 1998 the Covington Transit Center came on board to provide a convenient transfer hub. The company also added the popular South Bank Shuttle to serve the entertainment districts of Newport, Covington and Cincinnati.
More improvements for commuters came in the early 2000s. To adhere to weight restrictions and protect the historic bridge, the company stopped using the Roebling Bridge in 2007. TANK brought the Southbank Shuttle route back across the bridge in 2010 and gave it a new “historical” look to fit the bridge. While still a bus, it now resembled a trolley car of old. The 2020 route changes, as part of the redesign, moved the Southbank routing off the suspension bridge again and moved its permanent route service to the Clay Wade Bailey bridge.
For busy commuters, the company added the Fort Wright Hub near its main garage, for transfers and to allow for Park and Ride convenience. TANK had commuters in mind again in 2013 when it opened another hub, this time in Florence with direct service to downtown Cincinnati on the 42X. The following year, the company added its first cross-county service linking Boone, Campbell and Kenton Counties. The 35X East-West Express connects riders between Florence, Fort Wright and Northern Kentucky University.
Also in the early 2000s new more fuel efficient technologies came onboard, and it became clear public transportation could play a major role in helping to provide sustainable solutions to environmental and traffic issues. The company added a few hybrid buses to its 130-bus fleet. Today, thanks to federal support, TANK plans to purchase 14 hybrid buses over the next several years, and is looking for more technological improvements as they become available.
Heading into the second decade of the new century, TANK prepared for a major new project — an in-depth ridership and route study.
Navigating unexpected challenges
In 2019, the company launched an extensive system redesign project. While the company undergoes a system evaluation and refresh about every five years, the 2020 System Redesign Project was its most ambitious to date.
Community input was key, and the public was invited to share their insights and ideas through both in-person meetings and an in-depth survey. TANK staff and the transportation consultant team gathered the data over several weeks and developed a draft plan. Officials then presented it throughout Northern Kentucky communities for additional public comment and reaction.
Armed with this feedback, the team began to prepare a rollout of their plan set for later in 2020 — but then came the new and unexpected challenge of a worldwide pandemic. Despite the many challenges presented by the situation, the company was able to successfully navigate through and slowly roll out some of the changes.
Despite the challenges of the last few years, the company is poised and ready to build upon its history and move forward, said TANK Marketing Manager Jenny Kammes.
“Our goal is to take the 2021 service change and get it fully implemented. We spent years studying the issues and gathering input from local officials and the public to determine the best way to adjust our routes to better serve the needs of our community,” she said.
Looking back and moving ahead
The past 50 years have seen a great deal of growth and change, while sticking to our mission of serving the people who count on us to get them where they need to be. We’ve focused on streamlining our most traveled routes, outfitting our buses with the latest technology to keep our community connected and proactively creating strategies to connect service to the up-and-coming communities and businesses in Northern Kentucky,” Kammes said.
She had this message for TANK customers, staff and supporters: “We enjoy a good ‘throwback’ but have always believed that moving forward, while paying homage to the past — employees, fleet, customers and facilities — is so very important. We would not be who we are today without the support of each of you, and we thank you for trusting us with your transportation needs. We are excited for what the future holds! Stay tuned!”
Visit tankbus.org for information on as well as routes, schedules and fares as well as latest TANK news and developments.