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February 12, 2013 > History: Public Transportation

History: Public Transportation

By Phil Holmes

Public transportation is provided to assist people who need to get from one place to another on a regular schedule. The type of transportation, cost and speed have varied over the years.

Charles Shinn wrote that the county boundary sloughs extended to Alviso in Santa Clara County. Alviso was the "head of the bay and the shipping point for hundreds of miles of territory." There were schooners, scows and sloops followed by steamboats and then stage coaches. This pattern was also true for the Union City Landing.

The first schooners and scows came to Union City in 1850. John Horner brought the first steamer, The Union, two years later. More steamboats came and began transporting large groups of passengers along with their regular freight loads. One captain recalled that he hauled up to 150 passengers a trip at $5 apiece.

John Horner built docks, warehouses and even a flour mill at Union City. He established the first stage line between Mission San Jose and Union City in 1852. It picked up passengers who had come from San Francisco at Horner's dock in Union City. Horner's stage suffered in hard times and was discontinued after a couple years.

John Horner and Elias Beard bought part of the Ex-Mission San Jose land grant in 1850 and laid out some of the roads that became our principal streets. Horner also built a bridge across Alameda Creek at Alvarado. Charles McLaughlin started stage service with regular routes in what became Alameda County. It was difficult to maintain schedules because the stages became mired in mud during rainy weather. Delays often forced passengers to miss ferry connections at Oakland.

Duncan and Ashley Cameron bought a stagecoach and began service in competition with the McLaughlin stages in 1853. They didn't have much money, but matched the competition with showmanship, wits and business sense. The rivalry peaked in 1856 when the Cameron brothers captured California mustangs and hitched them to their coaches. These wild broncos pulled the coaches at a dizzy pace and thrilled riders and observers along the route. It was an unforgettable experience for venturesome souls to ride in one of these thundering, swaying stages. The competition between the two lines brought fares down to less than a dollar per passenger and increased travel. McLaughlin eventually gave up and sold his coaches to the Camerons. Many people rode the stages just for fun or excitement.

The Camerons used wagons in times of high water, but even these occasionally got stuck. The men passengers had to get down and help pry the coach out of the mud so the journey could continue.

It became evident that the railroad was coming when the Western Pacific published a notice of condemnation for properties in Warm Springs and Irvington. When the lines were laid out, depots were established in the villages. Horse drawn stages could not compete with the railroads and were discontinued. Railroad service by privately owned companies was discontinued and replaced by modern bus stages in the 1930's just as horse-drawn stages had been replaced by the railroads in the 1870's

J. W. Coleman was still operating a stage line between Niles, Centerville and Newark in 1880. He brought the mail as regularly as the morning train to Niles.

In the 1947 edition of the Washington News, D. Gaeta, President of Peerless Stages Incorporated is pictured with Vice President, B.A. Perry reporting the purchase of 12 new buses for the Oakland to San Jose and Santa Cruz line. The new buses were 37-passenger streamlined stages made by the General American Aerocoach Corporation. It was reported in 1950 that buses were operating on less than are hour schedule from sites in Washington Township to Oakland.

The 1954 Fremont Shoppers Guide lists bus depots for Peerless stages at Centerville, Irvington, Mission San Jose and Niles. The Niles station is listed as a "Peerless Depot." In 1963, the Centerville and Mission San Jose stages are listed as depots under the "Peerless Stages System." Irvington is not listed but the "Greyhound Bus Lines" also had a stop at Helen's Fountain & Lunch in Mission San Jose. Smith's Charter Bus Service was advertised for rent.

About 1914 individual drivers with touring cars began operating between Oakland and Santa Cruz. The California Railroad Commission began regulating these auto stages in 1917. The Peerless Stages, Inc. was formed in 1921. "Real buses" appear along with competing lines. Peerless buses are currently available for charter. The company is looking for a location for their "rolling museum."

Voters created the AC Transit system in 1959. They assembled a fleet of new buses and extended service to new areas.

A 1960 law created the National Passenger Corporation for inter-city service. It was named AMTRAK in 1971. The Capital Corridor, which connects San Jose to the Sacramento area and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) increased public transportation to the Tri-Cities. BART will extend to Warm Springs with plans for expansion to the San Jose area.

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