To celebrate SamTrans’ 40th Anniversary, we’ll be highlighting historical moments from 1976, the first year of the agency’s existence. Beginning in May 2016, the monthly series will examine a corresponding milestone that occurred four decades ago.

July 1976:

After years of policy planning and months of prepping the buses and infrastructure systems necessary to launch a transit agency, the San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans) officially began service on July 1, 1976.

Although there was a great effort to ensure the smooth ascension of SamTrans, the fact that 11 wholly different transit agencies were being cobbled together under one entity, inevitably meant that the opening weeks and months of service were a little shaky.

Passengers who traveled on the SamTrans system those fledgling months might have noticed that there were seven different kinds of buses being used on the network, and those vehicles ran on three separate sources of fuel.

SamTrans bus yard in 1976. Photo via Cameron Beach Collection.

Bus operators didn’t even have a standard uniform to wear until 1977, according to Vincent Gavin, one of three SamTrans employees who have worked with agency since day one. Additionally, the operating bases—if one could call them that—were really just parking lots formerly in the service of used car businesses.

“It was a bit like the wild, wild west,” Gavin said. “No one really knew what was going on. You had a lot of different people coming in from a lot of different organizations. It was pretty chaotic.”

Still, the agency made things work. Passengers were able to travel around the Peninsula on a bus network that was more connected, efficient, reliable and safer than the balkanized systems that preceded SamTrans. A young and dedicated workforce made up of eager operators, mechanics, dispatchers and supervisors helped ensure that SamTrans secured loyal and lifelong customers during those early days of service.

There were a few speed bumps here and there, and without the outstanding effort put forth by front-line workers, SamTrans may have folded in the early months. Ultimately, it succeeded, paving the way for the successful multi-modal agency that the San Mateo County Transit District is today.


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