Charles Blow in the NYT has a piece today arguing that Rosa Parks was not the meek figure of legend but something of a firebrand, "as much Malcolm X as she is Martin Luther King Jr." Cap'n Transit thought this might be a good time to ask, "What happened to Montgomery's bus system?" He found the answer in a remarkable 13-year old piece in the Nation, by JoAnn Wypijewski:
From 1977 to 1999 a white … Republican named Emory Folmar was mayor, and he made the bus system scream. … Advertising income disappeared after Folmar tried to bar an anti-death penalty ad and then decided that if he couldn't discriminate among advertisers he wouldn't have any at all. By the fortieth anniversary of the bus boycott, service had been cut by 70 percent and fares had doubled, to $1.50. Student and old-age discounts were eliminated. In 1996 midday service stopped. Finally, in 1997, the City Council said there just weren't enough riders or revenue; the traditional system of big buses and fixed routes was finished.
However, things have clearly bounced back this piece was written in 2000. Today Montgomery has a simple, radial fixed route system of 16 routes, running at headways ranging from 30 to 60 minutes with some evidence of a downtown pulse. It's not much service in the context of a metro area of over 350,000 — especially one where a state capitol and university. But you start where you are, or where you retreated to.