The first buses in Sydney and Melbourne began operating in 1905. These were steam powered, but were not successful due to high operating costs and the unsuitability roads. Hobart introduced double-deck buses in the same year but they too were withdrawn. A number of servicemen returning from the First World War purchased petrol motorbuses and operated them privately in competition with government trams and trains. The various state governments tried to put an end to private motorbus operators and in 1931 regulations were introduced in NSW to discourage direct competition on routes already serviced by trams and trains. However, regular non-government bus services continued to be introduced in city areas not covered by public services, in country towns and between larger townships in the 1930s. The use of buses to carry school children also began at this time. Tasmania revolutionised rural education in Australia in 1936 with the adoption of a central school system replacing isolated one-teacher schools, a development only made possible by the use of private buses to transport the students.
By the early 1930s the NSW government had decided the future lay with buses not trams and the first government bus service commenced in Sydney in 1932 from Manly to Cremorne Junction. The early double-deck buses were of the short wheel-base, front-engine half-cab design. Underfloor-engined buses were introduced in volume from 1954 and today most government and private operators use either centre or rear-mounted engines. A long-running union dispute from the early 1970s led to the demise of double-deck buses in NSW when the state government decided it no longer required conductors, resulting in the present policy of operating only single-deck buses. The last of the rear platform double-deckers had left Sydney’s streets by 1977 while the Leyland Atlanteans finished in 1986. Difficulty in obtaining spare parts for the Leylands saw the government change to the Mercedes-Benz MKII; between 1978 and 1980, a total of 550 were ordered, still the largest bus order in Australia. (Even by 2004 more than 200 remained in service, this being a very robust vehicle.)
By the late 1980s Sydney had the largest Mercedes bus fleet in the world comprising approximately 1500 vehicles.
By the 1970s the internal combustion engine bus running on pneumatic rubber tyres had become the most widespread form of urban street transport in Australia. Articulated single-deck buses (‘bendy buses’) were introduced from the mid 1970s, appearing in Canberra. Compressed natural gas (CNG) has been used as an alternative to fuel for government buses, introduced on a trial basis in Sydney in 1992 and in Canberra in 1993. These produce about 25 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions than diesel Buses. By 2003 some 23 per cent of the NSW State Transit fleet of almost 1900 buses powered by natural gas. The future of buses sharing the crowded roads with cars continues to be a problem and in some cities, bus-only lanes have been established during peak periods. In Adelaide the O-Bahn busway, operating on a dedicated guided pathway which provides faster, uninterrupted transport, was introduced in 1986. A bus transit way was opened in Sydney from Liverpool to Parramatta in 2003 with 35 specially built stations, 21 km of off-road lanes and 10 km of on-road lanes.
This article is courtesy of the great book ‘On the Move, a history of transport in Australia’, by Margaret Simpson’ and is brought to you by Tram Scrolls Australia, specialists in premium quality replica tram and bus scroll art. With a massive collection of over 50 different designs covering a large number of Australia’s major suburbs, we are the first stop for tram and bus roll destination art.