Transit has a 146-year history in the Twin Cities. But there have been several service providers over the years, creating a chain of identities leading to what we now know as Metro Transit.
For decades, the region’s largest transit company was Twin City Lines. As its business deteriorated, the state created the Metropolitan Transit Commission in 1967. Commonly known as MTC, this new organization purchased several private bus companies and became the region’s primary transit provider.
The distinctive “T” that we still see today began appearing shortly after the MTC was created, perhaps inspired by a similar design used by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston. Around the same time, buses were painted a deep orange and operators began wearing dark green jackets and ties.
The next identity change came in 1994, when the MTC became a division of the Metropolitan Council. After the move, the Council briefly adopted the name Metropolitan Council Transit Operations, or MCTO.
Three years later, acknowledging the name had “not been embraced by customers, media, policy makers and employees,” the Council unanimously approved a new name – Metro Transit. Shortly after, a postcard to customers admitted MCTO was a “mouthful” and heralded Metro Transit as “Easy to promote. Easy to use.” Internally, the change was promoted as a “new name for a new beginning.”
Rick Schuster was part of a small group of marketing employees who helped come up with the new name.
While several ideas were proposed, Schuster said Metro Transit stood out as a clear favorite. “In a way, we were drawing on the history of MTC,” he said. “This was just a shortening of that, lopping off the commission, which isn’t very customer-focused, and shortening metropolitan to metro.” The logo was also a nod to transit’s past and future, with “Metro” appearing in a classic serif font and “Transit” appearing in a more modern typeface.
As part of the rebranding, blue, white and a more vivid shade of red became the colors of choice. For a time, teal was also appeared on buses, bus stop signs and uniforms.
More than 20 years after the renaming, Schuster said he thinks Metro Transit has withstood the test of time and will continue to do so.
“It wasn’t like we had this huge process where you hire a big ad agency, do focus groups and all this stuff,” he said. “It was just a small group of us talking about different ideas and thinking Metro Transit sounded pretty good. I think it’s been a great decision. Metro Transit is solid and timeless, and it’s probably never going to have to change.”
Transit has been a part of life in the Twin Cities since the first horse-drawn streetcars began moving through St. Paul in 1872. To illustrate the path transit has taken over the years, we’ll share a bit of history every month and trace its connection to our present-day system. If you have memories, photos or memorabilia to share, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.