By Ezri Staheli
The Utah Light and Traction Company owned and operated electric, power, and railway properties in Salt Lake City and its surrounding vicinities, including Ogden, in the 1940s. (Thatcher, 449) The Traction Company operated public buses and electric trolleys in the Salt Lake and Ogden valleys until their services were combined with other transit companies and enveloped into what we now know as the Utah Transit Authority. (Arave)
In the early 1940s, cars weren’t quite all the rave yet. People needed to get places, even here in the Salt Lake Valley, which is where the Utah Light and Traction Company came into play. Businessmen, travelers, and especially students were frequent users of the mass transit provided by the Traction Company.
When World War II broke out, though, soldiers needed transport to and from the army base, Fort Douglas, on the bench of Salt Lake City, which took priority because of the priority of the war. Because of this, students, the most frequent users of mass transit, were asked in March 1942 not to ride certain bus lines so overcrowding would not occur as soldiers rode those routes. (“Traction Company Asks Student Aid”; UDOT Public Opinion Survey)
The Salt Lake Telegram reported in January 1942 that the Utah Light and Traction Company had, previous to asking students not to ride certain bus lines, been brought before the Public Service Commission because of concern over buses getting overcrowded (overcrowded being described as loaded more than 50 percent above the rated seating capacity). The Telegram reported that part of this overcrowding occurred because of the population increase, thanks to the defense industries in the valley, which led to an increase of nearly 33 percent in daily riders.
According to The Utah Chronicle in March 1942, students were not happy with the Traction Company when it made the decision to give soldiers transit priority, especially when buses got rerouted after student cooperation did not occur. In August 1942, The Salt Lake Telegram reported that two main changes would be made by the traction company to accommodate the overcrowding that was occurring because of both students and soldiers needing to ride the buses up onto the 1300 East bench – the first change being a new shuttle service direct to Fort Douglas for soldiers (August 12) and the second being buses making fewer loading stops (August 4).
In July and September 1942, The Salt Lake Telegram also reported that multiple different staggered schedules were put into place by employers to aid in the overflow of buses. But, such staggered schedules could not necessarily be added to class schedules for students, which became another matter of outrage.
Public transportation is something that people relied on in the 1940s just like they do today, which is why the changing of bus routes was such a big deal to students, workers, soldiers, and community members alike. What started out as a few bus routes run by the Utah Traction Company has morphed into a modern-day, statewide system through the expansion of the Utah Transit Authority that most Utah citizens use at least once or twice in their life, if not once or twice a day. The importance of public transportation as a way to connect communities cannot be overstated; it’s one of the reasons that the Salt Lake Valley is the way that it is, so it’s important to look and see how it all started out, even if that start came with a few metaphorical and literal bumps in the road.
Ezri Staheli is currently a sophomore at The University of Utah. She is majoring in communication and minoring in parks, recreation, and tourism. Ezri plans to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in spring 2021.
“Bus Companies Oppose State Loading Order,” Salt Lake Telegram, January 26, 1942, 9.
“Traction Company Asks Student Aid,” Utah Chronicle, March 12, 1942, 1.
“Traction Company Should Cooperate,” Utah Chronicle, March 26, 1942, 4.
“’Stagger’ Plan For Buses Asked,” Salt Lake Telegram, July 11, 1942.
“Buses To Begin Making Fewer Loading Stops,” Salt Lake Telegram, August 4, 1942, 13.
“Fort Bus Line Augmented,” Salt Lake Telegram, August 12, 1942, 12.
“Staggered Time Eyed at Capitol,” Salt Lake Telegram, September 1, 1942.
Arave, Lynn. “Utah Transit Authority has long, winding road of history, ” Deseret News, September 26, 2010.
Thatcher, Lionel W. “Financial and Depreciation History of the Utah Power and Light Company,” The Journal of Land & Public Utility Economics 15, no. 4 (November 1939): 448–455.
Utah Department of Transportation Public Opinion Survey Report, prepared for Utah State Department of Transportation (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Survey Research Center, 1995).