Unitrans turns 50 this week! And what a ride it’s been for this student-initiated and still mostly student-run transit system: It started with a pair of used double-deckers from London operating on two routes catering to students primarily, and now has 49 buses on 18 routes covering the city and carrying more than 4 million passengers a year.
An anniversary celebration with Chancellor Gary S. May, Davis Mayor Robb Davis and Josh Dalavai, president of the Associated Students of UC Davis, is set to begin at 11 a.m. Friday (March 2) in the Memorial Union (see box). Light refreshments will be served.
“Unitrans is an essential service that ASUCD has successfully operated for 50 years along with our partner, the city of Davis,” Dalavai said. “Unitrans highlights what we can do when we all work together. We hope everyone can make our celebration ceremony.”
Former ASUCD President Bob Black will also take part. He won election in 1966, promising during his campaign to bring bus service to the university. He would later serve as a city councilman and mayor.
Within months of his election, the ASUCD laid plans for the bus system, eventually buying those London double-deckers. They arrived in November 1967 — and Unitrans celebrated that 50-year anniversary by re-creating the original bus-christening ceremony.
The buses started carrying passengers on Feb. 28, 1968, as the University Transport System. “Buses Will Finally Roll Wednesday,” The California Aggie declared in a Page 1 headline two days earlier.
“Tickets are available today from the cashier’s office at the UCD bookstore. The cost is 75 cents for 10 rides and a free transfer. Single rides cost 15 cents and may be purchased from the conductor on the bus. The vehicles will serve both East and West Davis, running regularly from 7:15 a.m. to 6 p.m.”
Prepping the old double-deckers to meet California regulations took longer than expected, and, even two days before launch, University Transport System Director Tom Matoff could not positively say the buses would roll on Feb. 28. All requirements “should be met” by then, he told The Aggie.
“Matoff’s advice to all students eager to ride the buses is to ‘stick your head out the window after 7:15 and see if there’s anything resembling a double-decker moving down the street.’”
Editor’s note: We’ve corrected The Aggie's spelling of Matoff's last name.
Partnering with the city
In 1972, the city of Davis and the ASUCD established a partnership that opened the service to the general public. That partnership has continued to grow and prosper, now carrying an average of 22,000 passengers a day. Unitrans employs 250 students, including drivers, supervisors, conductors, maintenance crews and administrative staff.
Along the way, UC Davis and Unitrans became famous for those old London buses — which is why we still have three of them (along with two modern double-deckers).
Ride original route
From noon to 2 p.m. Friday, one of Unitrans’ vintage double-deckers will be operating between the Memorial Union terminal and downtown Davis, one of the system’s original routes. This isn’t just for show — the bus will be working, so climb aboard if you like!
A throwback fare of 15 cents is in effect all week. No charge, as usual, though, for students with valid undergraduate registration cards, and passengers with senior passes (age 60 and up) or disabled passes.