Transportation services to the general public in Pensacola began in 1884 when the Pensacola Street Car Company provided mass transit service with mule drawn cars. By 1888, the company operated a 3%-mile system with ten cars and a stable of 32 mules. At this time, the Pensacola Terminal Company purchased the system and added a nine-mile steam powered service. This new service connected downtown Pensacola with Fort Barrancas located on the present Naval Air Station.
Pensacola Terminal Company ran into financial difficulty and in 1897 was sold to the Pensacola Electric Terminal Railway, who in November of 1897 converted the mule draw service to an electric trolley system. The old street railway was rebuilt to accommodate electric trolleys and commenced operations in March 1898. The line to Fort Barrancas continued steam-powered operations. In 1906, Stone and Webster of Boston, Massachusetts, purchased the utility rights in the City of Pensacola. Stone and Webster established a new company, the Pensacola Electric Company, to operate all utilities including the transit system.
Pensacola Electric Company's transit operations peaked in 1918, at which time the system consisted of 21.4 miles of track and 45 passenger cars. By 1931, the 30-year railway franchise was expiring and Gulf Power Company, the successor to the Pensacola Electric Company, lost interest in the unprofitable electric transit system. Supported by the Chamber of Commerce, Gulf Power decided that public transit needs would be better served by buses rather than railways and in January 1932, seven buses were put in service. The heavily populated areas were served on a 10-minute headway schedule, while the more sparsely populated areas were served with a 20-minute headway. In 1932, the fare charged by the Pensacola Coach Company was 5¢.
Pensacola Transit, Inc. assumed ownership of the transit system in June 1945 and the system operated under several owners until 1950 when it was purchased by the American Transit Corporation (ATC). Ridership declined steadily in the 1950s and 1960s, finally reaching a point where revenues failed to support operating expenses of the system. In 1968, Pensacola Transit, Inc., announced they would discontinue service at the end of December, however, in order to continue service, the City of Pensacola agreed to subsidized some costs of operations through June 1969. In September 1969, the City of Pensacola entered into a 2% year agreement with the Pensacola Transit Division of the ATC to manage and operate the transit system within the city limits.
Early in 1971, the City Council and the Board of County Commissioners entered into an Interlocal Agreement providing for the County to assume responsibility for operating a transit system. Service routes were extended into the urban area of the County. Since 1972, The Escambia County Transit System has been managed and operated by the Pensacola Transit Division of ATC under the terms of a Management Contract with the Board of County Commissioners. In 1974, Escambia County upgraded the system by purchasing 18 new General Motor Corporation mass transit coaches, new bus route signs, and a number of bus shelters. In April of 1979, the County acquired five new advanced design buses and began construction of a new Administrative and Maintenance Facility at the corner of Fairfield Drive and L Street. The facility was officially opened in April 1981 and since that time all operations have been conducted from this site. While all vehicles, equipment and materials are the property of Escambia County, all personnel are employees of ATC and the Pensacola Transit Division. Drivers and maintenance personnel are represented by Local 1395 of the Amalgamated Transit Union. ECAT continued to improve in design and service. A bus replacement program established by the Maintenance Department carefully planned ECAT's bus procurement program in an effort to provide the ECAT passenger with the most comfortable vehicles within financial constraints.
In 1993, ECAT hired a fulltime Marketing Director. This brought about a new transformation of the system that involved image enhancement and a new logo. A beach trolley operation was initiated in 1995 and a downtown trolley system followed in 1996. The downtown trolley service was discontinued in 2002. University of West Florida (UWF) on-campus trolley service began in January 2003.