Benjamin Gettler more than once played a major role in the history of public transit in Cincinnati. Today’s single-company operated public transit system originated in 1873, when four horse-drawn tram systems merged to form the Cincinnati Consolidated Railway Company. Seven years later in 1880, its name changed to the Cincinnati Street Railway Company. The company provided streetcar service to Cincinnatians until 1952, when it moved to provide bus-only service and changed its name to the Cincinnati Transit Company.
Gettler’s involvement began in 1948, when he and friend Lloyd Miller began buying stock of the Cincinnati Street Railway, with the intent of owning enough shares to control the company. Along with law partner Jake Brown, they eventually owned enough stock shares to control the company, and were on the Board of Directors. In 1967, they created a subsidiary company, which took the name of Cincinnati Transit Company, and the remaining company changed its name American Controlled Industries, Inc. This enabled them to sell the Cincinnati Transit Company to the city of Cincinnati in 1973, forming the current Metro bus service. The Cincinnati Transit Company was the last privately owned public transportation system to be sold to a major city in the United States.
Gettler returned to work in public transportation in 2002, when he was appointed to serve on the Board of Trustees for the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, the company which operated Metro. He served as Chairman of the board from 2004-2006, when his term was up. Two years later, he was appointed a “Royal Coachman” in 2008, in recognition for his “service to the people of Cincinnati” and “dedication and expertise… to the improvement of public transportation”.
In addition to public transit, Gettler also played a role in the history of the Cincinnati Southern Railway. The railway, connecting Cincinnati and Chattanooga since 1880, is the only municipally owned railroad in the United States. It is operated by the Norfolk Southern Railroad Company, which connects the Cincinnati-Chattanooga line to New Orleans and Texas. When it came to renegotiate the operating lease agreement in 1987, Mayor Charlie Luken appointed Gettler to the Cincinnati Southern Railway Board of Directors, for the specific purpose of handling the negotiations. Ultimately Gettler was able able to negotiate a lump sum payment of $6,000,000 to the city of Cincinnati and an additional $8,000,000 in annual revenue.