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Updated 11:00 AM October 9, 2006




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U-M mass transit celebrates 60th anniversary

How many people can squeeze onto a U-M bus? How much nonperishable food can be loaded on board?

These questions will be answered this month when U-M's Parking and Transportation Services (PTS) celebrates 60 years of transit service on campus.
One of two Army surplus buses that provided service between Willow Run Village and central campus beginning in 1945. (Photo courtesy Bentley Historical Library)

"We're very proud to have reached this milestone," says Dave Miller, executive director of PTS. "To celebrate, we wanted everyone to participate, so we're hosting a couple of events to be able to include the whole University."

The public is invited to help break the Guinness World Record for the most people on a bus from 2-3 p.m. Oct. 14 at Elbel Field. Participants must be at least 5 feet tall; everyone will be required to keep their feet on the bus floor (no stacking allowed by Guinness rules).

"Guinness has quite a few rules to follow in order to maintain a safe environment," says Miller. "The record, which was recently set in Germany at 200, will be tough to beat. But we'll give it our best effort. We want everyone to have fun and be safe."

Canned goods and other nonperishable food items will be collected on a bus from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Oct. 18 on Washington Street at the north end of Ingalls Mall. The goods will be donated to Food Gatherers, a local nonprofit food rescue and distribution program.

Transportation services at U-M actually began in the early 20th century, according to historical records, when horses, mules, wagons and carriages provided heavy equipment hauling and limited passenger service.

In 1945, when the Willow Run Village (12 miles to the east) was converted from housing for employees in the bomber manufacturing plant into college housing for veterans and their families, the state provided U-M with $25,000 to establish and operate a bus service to the village. U-M purchased two U.S., Army surplus buses to provide half-hour service from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. between the campus and village. At its peak, the village housed 3,000 students, including 1,500 single men, 200 coeds and 1,300 married students. And thus transit services at U-M began.

Today the unit, part of the combined Parking and Transportation Services Department, employs 110 full-time and part-time drivers who transport more than 5.6 million passengers a year via 56 buses. Additionally, 16 staff members maintain the buses and more than 1,000 other University vehicles.

"It is amazing how consistent things have been over the years," said Bitsy Lamb, a 22-year PTS employee who also was a student driver in the 1970s. "The bus service is still a big component of student success as much of a utility as electricity or water. Where would we be without it?"

Earlier this year, a new service—the Magic Bus—was created by a team of students and faculty from the College of Engineering and PTS staff. It allows potential passengers to track when the next bus will arrive at their stop. Go to for more information.

Miller envisions transit services remaining an important campus service.

"As the University campus continues to grow, mass transit will continue to play a vital role in helping students, staff and faculty move around campus in a convenient, effective way," he says. "What is fun to think about is what the vehicles will look like in another 60 years."

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