Need a Lift? Exploring the History of the Institute for Urban Transportation, 1969-2005

Mass Transit Management: A Handbook for Small Cities, Parts I-IV, 1980. From the Institute for Urban Transportation Records

For many students at Indiana University Bloomington, the campus bus has become a standardized part of the educational routine, picking them up at many convenient stops and getting them to and from their classes in a timely fashion. While the public transportation system is an essential service for many people, its history is not often considered very deeply. When was the last time you caught the bus and found yourself wondering how it all got started? The recently processed Institute for Urban Transportation records provide a glimpse into the founding and history of the campus bus system in Bloomington, Indiana, as well as the many other impressive accomplishments and services provided by the institute during its 36-year history.

The Institute for Urban Transportation was founded in 1969 by Dr. George M. Smerk, a professor of transportation at Indiana University’s School of Business (renamed the Kelley School of Business in 1997). The institute aimed to improve public transportation management and policy through education, research, and technical assistance.

A circa-1970’s poster for a $25 semester pass to ride the campus bus. From the Institute for Urban Transportation Records

The institute published a monthly newsletter titled Indiana Transit for many years, and they also published a number of practical handbooks, including Mass Transit Management: A Handbook for Small Cities (1971) and the Handbook for Management Performance Audits (1979).

In 1973, Dr. Smerk joined forces with geography professor William R. Black, and together they wrote the City of Bloomington Mass Transportation Technical Study. This study established the routes and schedules for the first public transportation system in Bloomington, Indiana – including the campus bus system that continues to run to this day!

During this period, the institute also developed the Management Performance Audit (MPA) procedures and conducted more than a dozen audits of public transportation systems throughout the Midwest, helping many public transportation systems to improve their services. In 1979, the institute was awarded the Administrator’s Award from the Urban Mass Transportation Administration, a division of the federal Department of Transportation. The award recognized the institute for developing innovative transportation services and management techniques for the state of Indiana.

Dr. Smerk was a professor of public transportation in the School of Business for almost 40 years, and he served as the director of the institute until his retirement from Indiana University in 2003. In 2014, Dr. Smerk was presented with the Lifetime of Academic Distinction Award from the American Public Transportation Association.

Dr. George Smerk and students in his public transportation course, August 1966. IU Archives Image No. P0066602

Kent McDaniel, a former student of Dr. Smerk’s who later became Indiana University’s transportation liaison and a prominent figure in Indiana public transportation development, also had a prominent role at the Institute for Urban Transportation. He spent many years serving as the assistant director of the institute, a position he held until the institute closed in 2005 after 36 years of service.

Contact the Indiana University Archives if you would like to schedule a visit to view the Institute for Urban Transportation records and learn more about the history of public transportation in Bloomington, Indiana and beyond.

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