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Public Service Vehicles - Buses, Trams and Taxis

The horse drawn bus is a French invention, first seen in the 1660's the original idea was to offer services to the rich however they preferred to use their own carriages and the enterprise went bust. In 1820 the idea was revived, again in Paris, and as the bus was available to all in the new egalitarian state they coined the name omnibus. The horse drawn bus arrived in Britain in 1829 courtesy of a man called Shilliheer, but these were small vehicles with a single rear door giving access to a compartment for perhaps six or eight people. In 1855 some French investors set up the London General Omnibus Company, by the end of the decade it was the largest bus company in the world and by the turn of the century there were over a thousand horse drawn buses in London alone. Buses grew larger but it was a few years before a double-decker appeared, the top seats were in the open and fare for these was half the price of an inside seat. The example shown is typical, the upper side panel would usually have an advertisement on it, as would the two panels to either side of the drivers seat, the lower side panel would carry the bus company name and crest (often the local corporation operated the bus service). It would have a pair of heavy horses (perhaps five feet high at the shoulder) to pull it on the city streets.

Fig___ Horse drawn bus

Horse drawn bus

Horse drawn bus services, and later tram services, were the backbone of public transport in towns and cities. I believe the horse drawn buses out lasted the horse drawn trams (which rapidly switched to electric power), the last horse drawn bus in Manchester operated until 1914. The later horse buses were rather large, requiring three or four large horses to haul them. The example shown below is preserved at the Manchester Transport Museum.

Fig___ Late Manchester horse drawn bus

Horse drawn bus

Steam and Motor Buses

Steam power was also applied to buses, in 1801 Richard Trevithick built a steam coach but it caught fire and was destroyed. Trevithick's attempt was not considered a success but a steam powered coach built by Goldsworthy Gurney in 1829 went from London to Bath and back at rate of fifteen miles an hour. Mr Gurney was knighted in 1863, mainly for his work on mine safety and for heating and ventilating the Houses of Parliament but there was a lot of opposition to buses running on the roads (mainly from the existing stage coach companies but also from the new railway companies). Faced with competition from electric trams and motor vehicles the steam bus fell from favour and as far as I am aware non were in regular commercial use by the later 1920s. The photographs below show a preserved steam bus but other than the fact it was built in 1914 I am not sure of its history.

Fig___ Steam Bus

Preserved steam bus

Modeling the steam bus is not such a difficult proposition. Personally I would use the front end of a W & T Fowler Ploughing Engine kit with the rear body built up from clear plastic card and painted. The rear wheels could be road wheels from an OO scale Panzer III tank kit and the side tanks on the engine could be represented using strips of thick card.

The motor engined bus appeared in Germany in 1895 and in Britain the railway companies became involved in buses from the turn of the Century (the Great Western Railway actually ran the first properly scheduled motor bus service in the country). Motor buses took a while to catch on, London had a total of twenty in service in 1905, ten years later however the horse-drawn bus had virtually gone as internal combustion engined vehicles improved. Many of the countries buses were requisitioned for the First World War and many of the crews volunteered to go with them to the front. The standard London Bus of the period was the B Type double decker and these gave good service as troop carriers during the war. The single deckers carried thirty odd people and double deckers held twice that number. The top deck on a double deck bus was normally open until the 1920's (the Police had to licence designs and they were concerned that a top heavy vehicle might fall over), even then the staircase leading up remained in the open until about 1930.

Fig___ 1920 motor bus

motor bus designs

Early buses such as the one shown above used standard commercial lorry chassis, the floor on these machines was necessarily high and required steps at the entrance but in the 1920's purpose built buses began to appear with lower floors and easier access. This change also saw a shift to the driver having his own enclosed cab, usually sitting beside the engine. The sketches below are 'generic' (the single decker was sketched from a photo posted by John Turner on the alt.binaries.images.vintage-engineering news group) and typical of the early 1930s.

Fig___ 1930 motor buses

1930 motor bus designs

Lowering the floor means the wheel arches intrude into the passenger compartment and buses use large wheels to provide a smooth ride. On double decker buses the seats over the wheel arches ran front to back, so the passengers sat with their back to the window, they were also raised slightly higher than the seats in the forward part of the compartment. Hence if adding internal detail the seat backs over the rear wheels need to be raised and at right angles to the rest. On the single deckers the passengers just had to put up with the bump under their feet. The sketch below shows a double decker from 1932, the picture on the right shows the flatter fronted designs of the 1940s, these remained in service into the 1970s.

Fig___ 1930s and 1940s double deckers

1932 and 1948 motor bus designs

The illustration below is from a 1930s book on engineering and shows a cut-away of a typical London bus of the later 1930s.

Fig___ Cut-away of a 1930s double decker

Scan of a Cut-away of a 1930s double decker

Not all buses had the entrance at the rear, from the early 1930s the American bus styling was used for some single deckers, with doors between a third and half way back from the front. Some double deckers had doors on the entrance, the example shown below was photographed at the Manchester Transport Museum, it was in production from 1944 to 1947 and has pneumatically operated side doors. I believe this example actually continued in service up to the later 1960s.

Fig___ 1940s double decker with side doors

1940s double decker with side doors

When one-man operated buses appeared in the mid 1960s they had the doors moved to the front by the drivers position, these were initially single deckers and used on the quieter rural routes.

Fig___ Mid 1960s one man operated single decker

Mid 1960s one man operated single decker
Double deck buses generally had a open platform at the rear with no door as such, doors at the front of the bus (often with a second set at the mid-point, appeared in the 1970s I believe, by which time the front of the bus was getting very flat.
Scheduled bus services into country areas began in Scotland with a service operating from Hamilton. The role of the petrol bus outside the cities was mainly as a feeder service for the railways but country bus services also carried milk and (in remote areas) postal traffic. The mainstay of the country service was the single deck bus but double deckers were used on routes feeding into the larger towns and cities. In the 1980s the Government decided that local councils operating services such as housing and public transport were not a good idea, for the buses this saw a big change in the rules on running bus services and many new companies set up in competition. Money was tight and one option was the small single decker bus, based on a common design of bread delivery van (it was about this time that people stopped having their bread delivered to their homes as the supermarkets tightened their grip). For use as a bus a set of pneumatic folding doors were fitted near the front and the rear door of the bread van was dispensed with. As there was no provision for a roller blind destination indicator an illuminated electronic indicator was fitted inside the windscreen by the door.

Fig___ Mid 1980s one man operated single decker (converted bread van)

Mid 1980s one man operated single decker

Deregulation saw a proliferation of liveries, often including non traditional elements such as broad diagonal stripes. By the mid 1990s the early converted bread vans were disappearing and although a number of similar but purpose designed small vehicles were entering service (complete with destination indicators on the roofline) the general trend was a move back towards traditional large single and double decker types.

Fig___ Early 21st Century bus designs

Early 21st Century bus designs

Charabancs and coaches

One often sees pictures of 'outings' showing an open topped vehicle with bench seats running side to side and usually referred to as a charabanc (from the French 'Char a bancs', a carriage with seats). Some of these were purpose built vehicles but many were commercial lorries with a bolt-on rear and seats. Charabancs were not used for normal scheduled bus services but were hired out to groups of people for special occasions such as church group picnics and trips to the races. One of these parked at a country railway station awaiting its passengers adds a little interest to the passenger side of a model.
The covered version of the charabanc is the coach, more comfortable than a conventional bus and up to the 1980s always a single decked design. These were again mainly reserved for special trips and up to the 1960s they were commonly referred to as charabancs. On the buses there was a conductor to keep an eye on passengers, on a coach there was usually only the driver, hence where the bus commonly had the entrance at the rear the coach usually had it at the front and coaches usually had a set of driver operated doors to keep out the draughts. By the 1940s 'coach trips' were becoming increasingly common, sometimes operating in cooperation with the railways to provide the popular one day 'mystery trips' (where the passengers were not told exactly where they would be going).

In 1929 the government stated that it would not allow high speed coaches (by then capable of speeds of up to 60 mph) to operate in Britain as they were simply too dangerous. The government must have relented this decision as long distance coach services offering comfortable padded seats were widely established in the 1950s. These services operated between town centre coach stations, operating between major cities on a scheduled basis and providing increasing competition to the railways.

Fig___ 1920s charabanc and 1950s Leyland Comet coach

Charabanc and coach


There is an excellent site covering trams maintained by John Prentice at, well worth a visit if you are considering a tam service either as an adjunct to a model railway or as a model in its own right.

In 1775 John Outram, the canal and wagonway builder, introduced a passenger carrying wagon pulled by two horses on one of his lines. This was used for local journeys and probably counts as the first 'tram'. In the 1832 a rail-mounted horse drawn bus or tram service was established in New York although most reference sources ascribe the invention of the tram to an American by the name of George Francis Train in the 1850's. In 1852 a Frenchman by the name of Emile Loubat came up with the idea of embedding rails in the road surface so they did not interfere with road traffic (although getting a road vehicle wheel stuck in tram lines remained a problem until the development of wider motor car tyres in the 1930's). Trams (called 'streetcars' in America) offered a smoother ride than conventional wheels on the roads of the time and a single horse could pull a tram on the level whereas the road-going bus required two. In practice trams were often pulled by up to three horses in hilly areas, a team of three had two horses abreast in front of the tram itself and a third in front of those. The first British horse drawn tram service was set up at Birkenhead on Merseyside in 1860 and soon spread to other cities, Salford (near Manchester) started building a horse drawn tram system in the 1870's. Manchester objected to having rails on the streets so a horse drawn tram was used that could be pulled from the rails at the city boundary and run on the road into Manchester. Horses required food and a fair amount of general looking after, also the speed of a horse drawn tram was about six miles per hour and various alternatives were tried. Horse drawn trams were all (I believe) four wheelers and generally had an entrance, and staircase if double-decked, at each end (this made sense as the driver was able to stand on the platform at the end to control the horse).

By the 1880's steam driven trams were in use in several cities (notably Leeds), these consisted of a separate engine towing a trailer coach (sometimes two) for the passengers. The rules allowed the trailer to have an enclosed upper deck on most lines but those with a narrow gauge (3 foot 6 inches was used on some lines) had to have open topped upper decks. On some lines a compromise was to add a light roof to the upper deck with open sides fitted with curtains for weather protection, the example shown below left is based on those used in Milton Keynes, these could be seen towing up to three coaches. The coach appears to have only one entrance, although this is unusual in trams, it has bogies whereas the horse drawn type were four-wheelers. The more substantial trailer shown on the right is an example from (I believe) Birmingham, this type seem to have been mainly single coach services and at least some had an entrance at each end, access being on opposite sides. The liveries shown are not accurate for either service, I believe the steam tram services operating on British streets had all been replaced by electric trams by the time of the First World War.

Fig___ Steam tram engines with their trailers

Sketches of steam tram and their trailers

Conventional railways and in particular the 'Light Railways' (introduced in the 1890s) often had to run lines along or across town streets, the locomotives used were fitted with protective screens on the wheels and motion (so as not to frighten horses) and were known as tram locomotives although most had nothing to do with public transport 'tram' services. There is an N Gauge whitemetal kit of the LNER J70 tram engine in the Thameshead range available from B.H.Enterprises but I am not sure which chassis this requires. The engines used for steam tram services were rather smaller and represent something of a challenge in N Gauge, the standard gauge engines are a more practical proposition. These engines remained in use well into the 1960s.

Fig___ Steam standard gauge tram engine

Sketch of a tram engine

There were some experiments using town gas for trams, these began in the 1880s but were never very successful. Neath in South Wales operated the last such service in the world. The trams were purchased second hand and the service operated under various ownerships from the 1890s until 1920, when motor buses were introduced. There were also clockwork powered trams, experiments were conducted in Britain and the USA using ground mounted steam engines to wind up the powerful springs, however these never really developed beyond the experimental stage. One alternative that did find some use was the battery tram locomotive, these did not require the overhead electricity supplies but in practice only a few were built. The sketch below shows a Birmingham battery powered tram engine from (I believe) the 1880s.

Fig___ Battery tram engine used in Birmingham

Sketch of a battery tram engine

Battery power would have been useful for maintenance services but I have not seen any evidence that it was used in this way.

In the 1870s the French introduced a pneumatic tram using compressed air cylinders pressurised by a steam engine at the depot. The French system proved moderately successful and in the 1880s several British cities experimented with similar systems. London, Liverpool, Chester, Glasgow and even the Wantage Tramway all ran experimental services in the 1880s. The system worked but in Britain they were found to use more coal than equivalent steam-tram services and electric trams were starting to appear. By the later 1890s the compressed air trams had disappeared from British lines.

Cable hauled trams were used in several cities (including I believe Glasgow), these used a fixed engine to pull a loop of cable set into the road surface, the tram 'collects power' by gripping the cable. Cable haulage offers advantages in hilly terrain, San Francisco still uses such a system but the 1904 Great Orme Tramway at Llandudno is (I believe) the only British cable hauled system still in operation.

Electrically powered trams offered many advantages with their excellent power to weight ratio and rapid acceleration. Early examples were comparatively small, rather similar in size to the horse drawn bus shown above, but with a flight of stairs and verandah at each end for the driver. The main problem with electric trams turned out to be obtaining a reliable connection for the power.

Two rail DC electrification was experimented with but did not catch on, the third rail system adopted by some railways was also tried, for use of streets the conductor rail had to run in a covered trench accessed via a slot, usually called a 'conduit system'. The Blackpool tram network, the first full network in the UK, used this system when it opened in 1884, there were two conductor rails in the trench with the pick-up (called a 'plough') running between them but the build up of sand and regular immersion in seawater caused problems and the system subsequently changed to overhead supply.

Fig___ Early blackpool tram with conduit pick-up

Sketch of an early blackpool tram

The conduit system was adopted for some of the London tramways, because it was felt that the tram wires were unsightly, where it lasted until the introduction of the electric trolley bus in (I believe) the 1920s. In outer areas the trams reverted to overhead supply, requiring change-over points where the conduit contact 'plough' could be retracted and the trolley pole (discussed below) engaged.

Another approach was to use studs set into the road surface, the Dolter system, in which a powerful magnet inside the tram 'activated' the studs and in theory these were not live when no tram was in place. In practice the switches proved unreliable and live studs were a genuine hazard, electrocuting several horses. One British line to use this system was at Torquay (opened in 1907), and that fairly quickly changed to overhead supply.

The solution finally adopted in Blackpool and elsewhere was the overhead wire to supply power, although obtaining a reliable connection remained a problem. The Von Siemens family name is closely linked to the development of both trams and trolley buses. Werner Von Siemens in Berlin lead the way, demonstrating a system in 1882 with two overhead wires carrying a four wheeled trolley to collect the power and a flexible wire feeding down to the vehicle. This was not a great success, in part because there was no way to arrange for two routes to cross or join. An American by the name of Sprauge developed and patented the 'trolley pole', a rigid bar with a double flanged pulley wheel set into the end. Von Siemens did not wish to pay for a patented system so he developed the 'bow collector', a loop of metal held up against the power wire (for more on this see Appendix Four - Locomotives - Overview and General Information). Meanwhile in Britain Von Siemens' brother adopted the rigid 'trolley pole', pressing on the underside of the wire and held up by a system of springs. The power was collected by the metal wheel on the pole and this allowed the pole to negotiate connecting plates where the wires for diverging routes met, the return path for the current was via the rails. One feature of tram services were the switch boxes at the side of the road to enable sections of the system to be isolated, these are now rare (although some were adopted by the electricity and telephone companies) but when the trams and trolley bus services were active they were common. The examples shown are both four feet high (the white stick beside the right hand example is 1m long), the example on the right is at the Manchester Transport Museum, in use the 'feet' would be buried in the ground.

Fig___ Tram switch box

Photo of an old tram switch box

Tram seats often had hinged backs, the tram itself did not turn round at the terminus, so the seat back could be moved across to allow people to face forwards on the journey. As with buses the police had objected to an enclosed upper deck (although a canvass cover supported on a tubular metal frame was acceptable) because they feared the weight would make the vehicle top heavy and unstable. Trams with an open upper deck had to have the trolley pole mounted on a short mast to keep it above the heads of the passengers. I am not sure when the last of the open deck trams ran but they seem to have been in service during the Second World War (I could be wrong on that). Blackpool retained its open topped trams as sightseeing vehicles. The sketches below show two types, one with a trolley pole pick-up, the other with a Siemens bow collector.

Fig___ Open top trams

Sketches of open top trams

Trams were also used for parcels traffic, the trams used for this were fully enclosed 'vans', but I have not yet found a photograph good enough to attempt a sketch. The illustration below shows the awning on the former Manchester Corporation Tramways parcels depot on the main road through the town of Sale. The awning remains in place although the premises ceased being used for tram parcels in the 1930s.

Fig ___ Cast iron and glass awning at former Tram Parcels Depot

Cast iron awning

The tram company delivered and collected parcels using hand carts, the example shown is preserved at the Manchester Transport Museum, the 'deck' is quite low, about two feet six inches from the floor.

Fig ___ Tram parcels delivery cart

Tram parcels delivery cart

Quite early on a standard height for tram wires was established at 20 feet (near enough 6m), necessitating rather tall poles to support the wires, I believe the average height for the pole was about 25 feet (roughly 7.5m). These were typically about 100ft apart and were either set into the pavement at the side of the road or run down the road, usually between two tracks. Because of the foreshortening effect of viewing things spaced along a road the poles look rather closer than this in photographs, but a better estimate of the spacing can be gained from aerial (or high building) views, looking down on the streets. The power wires were suspended from the poles from either rigid arms or from wires strung between the poles, the rigid arms seem to have been fairly short, perhaps ten feet long. Wire suspension was common, especially at road junctions where sighting the poles was difficult. In the illustration below the left hand example is mounted on a traffic island, protected by bollards and has a fairly short support arm. The next sketch shows a pole further down the road and has a longer rigid support for the trolley wire, the centre right example has a suspension wire suspended from the cross bar near the top, the right hand example has a sodium lamp with 'seagull reflector' added in the 1930s to provide street lighting. There were more elaborate poles, and simple tubular poles with a ball and spike on top, but the examples shown are all common types.

Fig ___ Cast iron Tram wire poles
Cast iron Tram wire poles

The curves on tram lines were not as tight as people think, although they were a lot tighter than those on railways, a fair average would be between 50 and 100ft radius. Modelers licence can be rather useful here, the fore-shortening effect of standing at ground level and looking at the line means much tighter curves can be used that still 'look right'.

Electrically powered trams built in Britain by Siemens and using the long 'trolley pole' first appeared in Yorkshire in 1881. A few years later a major trial of electric trams in Paris gained wide publicity and over the next thirty years electric trams were introduced in many British cities building to a total of something like 2,500 miles of routes. Most trams had a single pole, angled backwards from the direction of travel, and at the terminus this had to be pulled clear of the wire and moved round to the opposite end of the tram so it could reverse direction (although trams with a solid roof often had two poles, mounted on or about the centre line, one for each direction of travel). A rope was usually permanently attached to the pole to allow this and they can often be seen in pictures of trams on the move. The pantograph electric pick-up was developed in the mid Nineteenth century and was adopted by some Continental tram services, it was also used by the London Brighton and South Coast Railway for their electric train services in the 1860s. The advantage of the pantograph on a tram was that these did not need to be man-handled at the terminus but they remained uncommon on British trams. The example shown below left is a typical British four-wheeler (this example is preserved at the Manchester Museum of Transport, the four wheelers tended to rock back and fore when on the move). The sketch on the right shows a more or less typical bogie design from about 1930 with a fully enclosed upper deck. Trams were withdrawn or replaced by motor buses and trolley buses from the 1930s on but trams of this type remained in use until the end of British street trams in about 1960.

Fig___ Typical British Electric Trams

Typical double deck electric trams

There is no such thing as a typical British tram, ask any tram expert, but the illustration shows most of the standard features. The metal slatted frame underneath each end is a simple safety device, the spring loaded frame folds back when it strikes an obstacle, cutting power to the motors and applying the brake, a slatted 'scoop' plate is also dropped to prevent someone getting under the wheels. Double deckers were the most common type and exposed external stairs were the norm even when the top deck was enclosed, only the 'rear' stair was used when the tram was in use. The driver operated the tram using two levers (these can be seen in the sketch) and until the 1940s most stood in the open on the platform at the 'front'. The levers were removable, the driver took them with him when he changed ends.

Fig___ British Electric Tram controls

Typical British Electric Tram controls

There were a few oil or petrol engined trams (such as those used at Morcambe) and even some fuelled by gas (seen in Blackpool and in North Wales). Even where electric tram services were operated some of the steam 'tram locomotives' were retained for maintenance work when the power had to be switched off. In the 1890's Edinburgh had a cable-hauled tram system (similar in principle to the system in San Francisco) whilst in Paris at that time a pneumatic system powered the trams and other continental cities had electrical power supplied via a cable laid in a conduit in the road.

The motor driven bus began to replace the electric trams in the late 1920's. The top speed of the British tram was about eight miles per hour, by the 1930's motor buses were offering speeds of up to eleven miles per hour. Existing tram services saw little investment after about 1930 (other than at Blackpool) but they survived in many cities until after the Second World War. During the war many abandoned lines were reopened for a time but these used existing trams not new ones and when the last of the old tram systems were scrapped in the 1950's many were still using ancient four wheeled Victorian 'bone-shakers'. I believe the last trams ran in about 1960 (other than in Blackpool, which has retained their tram services as a tourist attraction).

One reason given for the abandonment of the tram and trolley bus was that the overhead wires made life difficult for firemen using extending ladders, however following the oil price rises in the mid 1970's electrically powered vehicles were re-evaluated and tram systems were developed in several towns and cities. Quite what this means for people in tall office buildings in the event of a fire remains to be seen.

The first of the new 'light rail' lines was the Tyne & Wear Metro, which proved successful and lead to a number of other systems including those in Manchester, Sheffield, and of course the driverless London Docklands system. These new systems favour overhead DC supplies, using the tracks and the return path for the current, however this adds to the cost of setting up the system so alternatives have been trialed. One so called 'self contained' system trialed in the later 1990s was the ultra lightweight 'Parry People Mover' rail-bus of the later 1990s which employed a gyroscope to store energy in support of a small internal combustion engine.

Trolley Buses

In towns the electric trams had become increasingly problematic as traffic increased. They ran on lines laid in the middle of the street so people had to dodge the traffic to get on or off and they caused traffic jams when they stopped.

The solution was the trolley bus, an electrically powered road vehicle supplied with current from overhead wires (two wires were required as the rubber tyres insulated the vehicle from the ground). The first use of overhead wires for a road vehicle (not running on rails) was probably a machine built by an Belgian born American inventor by the name of Van Depoele who patented the system in about 1880 and ran an example at a major trade fair a few years later. The British settled on a system using two independent poles as this reduced the problems caused by trying to electrically insulate the two wires from one another but there were a few systems around the world that settled on a single pole system and a couple that used the small truck running along the top of the wires with a flexible wire feeding down to the bus.

Trolley buses is not a subject I know a great deal about however there is an excellent web site where further information may e found Trolley Bus for those with an interest in the subject.

Electrically powered trolley buses first appeared on British roads in 1911 (on the streets of Leeds and Bradford) using a two-pole swivelling pick up pressing against the under side of the wires. They were sometimes referred to as 'the trackless tram' and most early examples were single decker designs. As with the buses the driver was in a cab set forward, separate from the passenger compartment. The poles were held up by springs and the bus could operate to a maximum of about fifteen feet from the wires, so although trolley buses could not overtake each other they could pull into the side of the road so passengers could get on and off safely.

Fig___ 1920s single deck trolley bus

1920s single deck trolley bus

It was felt it would be easier to retrain staff to drive electric buses rather than motor vehicles and there were concerns of unemployment and possible bankruptcies in the electricity industry if the electric trams were replaced by motor vehicles. A lot of money had been invested in the tram systems and not everywhere changed over to trolley buses. Manchester only began using the trolley bus in 1937 but by 1939 over half the trams in Britain had been replaced by trolley buses. Tram routes converted to trolley bus operation could still operate their trams, both used the same voltage so a tram could connect to the appropriate trolley with its single pole.

By the 1930s the double decker trolley bus was the preferred option and quite a number were six wheelers (four at the rear two at the front), but there were also four wheeler types. The illustration below is scanned from a 1930s book on electrical engineering and shows a typical London 6 wheeler trolley bus.

Fig___ Cut-away of a 1930s 6 wheeled double deck trolley bus

1920s single deck trolley bus

By the 1930s the double decker trolley bus was the preferred option and quite a number were six wheelers (four at the rear two at the front), but there were also four wheeler types. Although some had the open rear platform of the existing double decker buses the later designs had a flat front, with no separate cab for the driver. The trolley buses only outlasted the last of the trams by about ten years, they were phased out in the 1960s, the very last one ran (again in Bradford) in 1972.

Fig___ Double decked trolley buses

Trolley buses

The trolley bus idea remains in use today in certain industrial locations where electrical transmission offers advantages, for example it was still in use in 2006 at a cement works where heavy electric trucks transport limestone from a nearby quarry up a steep hill.

Bus and tram crews, stops and signs

A bus or tram stop provides a reason for a group of people not moving, although it does suggest that a bus or tram should appear at some point. Working trams are rather easier to model than buses, however there are now kits available to motorise road vehicles which then follow a wire set into the ground surface. One alternative is to have a remote terminus, at which a couple of buses might be seen taking a break before starting their run back to town. As many bus services prior to the 1980s were operated by the local council, who also maintained the roads, it was common to have a short loop of roadway at the terminus to allow the buses to park off the main road. These loops remained in place after the deregulation of the bus services and some remain in use today. The example shown below has no waiting shelter for passengers however up to the 1980s most such stops had a shelter, where several buses used the stop the shelter often housed a small office for the inspector.

Fig___ Bus terminus with loop road in 2006

Photo of Bus terminus with loop road in 2006

Trams also had to have power supplies and at a remote terminus there might well be a small building housing the transformers. The example shown below is not a tram related structure, it is an electricity sub station dating from (I believe) the early 1930s, however it would serve as the basis for an interesting model of a tram terminus. The building would require a set of double doors for engineers access at what is now the 'blank' end and the existing large door would be replaced by a smaller door and window, with the windows on the side this would serve as the inspectors office (discussed below). The louvered opening above the existing double doors would look better as a circular window, this would be hinged to open in hot weather. A brick chimney or iron stove pipe should also be added to the office end of the building. On the original structure there was, until about 2002, a wooden shelter built onto the blank side shown in the picture, this was about ten feet long and equipped with a long bench seat against the rear wall. This was provided for people using the local shops but would serve equally well for a 'tram stop' shelter.

Fig___ Tram terminus building

Photo of a possible tram terminus building in 2006

Up to the 1960s buses and trams had a two person crew, a driver and a conductor, the conductor could communicate with the driver using a single stroke bell (either operated by a cord pulling the clapper on the bell or later by an electric type that gave a single 'ting' for each push of the button). Both the driver and conductor wore enameled badges, prior to the 1930s only one badge seems to have been worn, although quite large, by the 1930s two was the norm, worn on the left breast. One (often white with a red or green rim) bearing their official number in black and the other indicating that they were licensed to perform the job. The conductor often attached the two badges to the strap of his change bag. The conductor sold tickets and when people wanted to get off he would ring the bell once to warn the drive to stop at the next stop, when everyone was on or off the bus at the stop he would give two rings to tell the driver it was safe to set off.

In the sketch below the chap on the left is a tram driver from about 1910, the lady conductor dates from about the time of the First World War, she has small books of card tickets on the shoulder strap, similar to the railway tickets of the time, about as thick as a postcard. To sell a ticket she would pull one off the book, insert it into the small machine and operate a lever which punched a distinctive shaped hole into the card, a small bell was built into the machine which gave a distinctive ting to let her know the hole had been punched. This machine lead to the conductors being known as 'clippies'. The chap standing next to her is sketched from a photo dated about 1950 but the open fronted jacket had replaced the tunic in many bus companies by the mid 1930s, he carries a later design of machine which printed the tickets onto a roll of paper inside the machine. This device had a set of buttons so he could punch in numbers indicating the start and end stop, he would then wind a handle on the machine to print and eject the ticket which he tore off and handed to the passenger. The driver (third from the left) wore a uniform but did not have the shoulder straps. To keep an eye on the system there were Inspectors, who were seen at bus stops monitoring the timing of the services. At important stops, where there might be several actual bus stops in close proximity, or at the end of the line, there was often a shelter provided for the inspector, often with a large clock on the outside for monitoring the time. In the sketch below the figure on the right is an 'inspector', from memory these gentlemen usually wore a raincoat, even in summer.

Fig___ Bus and tram crews

Bus and tram crews

Both bus and tram stops were indicated by a sign mounted on the side of the road. The bus (or trolleybus) could pull into the kerb for people to get on and off, trams ran down the middle of the road so people had to risk the traffic to reach the pavement. This was less of an issue prior to the 1950s as motor traffic was not so all pervasive and horse drawn vehicles tended to slow the traffic flow down somewhat. By the 1950s however the business of getting on and off trams was sufficiently hazardous to warrant public information films, mainly aimed at children. By the early 1990s when trams were once more being serious considered the roads were clogged with the angst ridden middle classes transporting children and flat pack furniture in a state of permanent agitation, so the new trams had to have special stops built for them in the roads.

As several services might use a single stop people wishing to board a bus had to hold out their arm so the driver could see they were waiting for his bus. Where only a single service used a stop the bus would usually stop if there was someone waiting. The trams seem to have stopped when there was a queue but this was mainly because there was a limited number of routes served by the track. Where multiple tram services used a line the associated stop sign would usually indicate a 'request stop', where the tram would stop only if someone held out their arm. In Liverpool the request stop was indicated by a different colour on the sign as shown below.

Tram stop signs seem to have been a varied lot, from what I have found it seems the majority were painted red with white lettering, the word STOP was usually large and in the centre, with smaller lettering above and below (possibly TRAM and HERE). These were a standard size, about twelve inches wide by ten inches high, and mounted about eight feet up, usually on one of the posts supporting the tram wires but sometimes on a 'bus stop' type post. Also, in some locations, they used signs attached to the poles indicating that trams would stop there when heading in a particular direction (the examples shown are from Liverpool, a red standard sign and a blue 'request stop' sign). Trams, with their 100ft radius curves, had to cut the corners on the roads and where a tram line ran close to a building, causing a danger of another road vehicle being trapped, a 'tram pinch' sign was set up. The more recent tram or light rail systems have their own specific signs, shown on the right below. The tram stop sign is similar to the modern bus stop but has the tram symbol at the top and no numbers. Assorted warning signs are positioned close by tram lines and a 'danger high voltage' sign is mounted on the power line support masts.

Fig___ Signs associated with tram systems

Tram stop and other signs

The standard basic bus stop sign was a rectangular metal plate, twelve inches (30cm) wide by ten inches (25cm) high painted white with BUS STOP in raised lettering and a raised rim all picked out in black. These were attached to the top of a 2 inch (50mm) post and set about eight feet high, technically this kind of sign is called a 'flag'. Some companies painted their signs in company colours, usually red or green, but the white sign with black lettering was the most common type. Where multiple bus routes were served, mainly in more built up areas, a large metal sign was used which had guides into which enamelled metal plates could be inserted showing the relevant bus service numbers. These larger signs often carried the logo of the operating company at the top. The bus stop posts were usually set into the ground but there were also 'portable' posts, these were not moved about much, it was simply an alternative way of supporting the post and they were also used as temporary posts when bus stops were move to allow road works and the like. The base consisted of a circular metal plinth filled with concrete, I have seen examples in photographs from the later 1930s and they were still in use in 2006. From the 1960s plastic was increasingly used for bus stop signs, by the 1980s some signs had the name of the operating company added (this was mainly the new 'passenger transport executives' associated with the large metropolitan boroughs) and in the 1990s bus stop signs were revised, adding a 'bus' symbol to distinguish them from the new tram stops. The standard sign now includes the logo of the operating company, a contact number, the location of the stop and a list of the bus numbers using the stop.

Fig___ Bus stop signs

Bus stop signs

Tram stops do not seem to have had time tables mounted on them but bus stops often have these mounted on the pole supporting the stop sign. These varied in size but prior to the second world war most seem to have been about fifteen inches wide by about two feet high and appear to have been made of wood, painted in the company colours and with a glass front to protect the paper time table. In the 1950s several of my local stops sported rectangular frames with a plastic surround and clear plastic window about two feet square, allowing several time table to be displayed. In towns the standard seems to have been a rather smaller sheet metal frame, perhaps ten inches wide by eighteen inches high, again with a glass or clear plastic window. In the illustration below the two examples on the left are pre-war, A is a Wilts and Dorset sign (the lettering on the sign is red and it is mounted on the top of the pole). B is Ipswitch Corporation Transport trolley bus stop, all over green with white lettering on the stop sign. C is a North Western Road Car Company sign from the 1960s, D is a sign photographed in South Manchester in 2006.

Fig___ Bus stops with time tables

Bus stops with time tables

In 2007 a new type of bus stop appeared in the South Manchester area, carrying more information on the location of the stop. I do not know if this is a new national standard but they became very common rather quickly in early 2007.
Fig___ Bus stop with time tables new in 2007

New design all plastic Bus stop with time table in 2007

Accessing the tram wires was originally done using a service tram, or long ladders to access the poles at the side of the road. With the introduction of the trolley bus an extending platform mounted on the back of a road vehicle came into use. This consisted of two lattice towers with one telescoping down inside the other, on to top of the lower tower was a drive engaging in a threaded pole mounted on the underside of the working platform. On some the hand rails on the platform could fold down flat, lowering the overall height by about three feet. Access was via a ladder mounted on the side of the base frame, so once the platform was raised up getting in and out would have been problematic. Similar vehicles were used by the council for servicing electric street lights where these were suspended some way out from the supporting pole. The example sketched below in green is a generic sketch, trolley bus companies often used a half-cab bus with a shortened chassis as the basis for their service trucks, the maroon example is preserved at the Manchester Transport Museum. Note the hand crank on the platform to let yourself down should the power fail.

Fig___ Trolley wire service truck

Trolley wire service truckPreserved Trolley wire service truck

Bus shelters and stations

Most bus stops consisted of no more than a post and a sign, however in the country the bus company, or the local authority. would often set up a shelter for people to wait in during bad weather. The example shown below top left is typical of the shelters provided. In the suburbs, where space permitted, shelters were also set up, most following the pattern shown below top right, these could be flat roofed or, from the 1940s fitted with a curved corrugated roof (usually I believe asbestos sheeting in both cases). Most that I remember from the 1950s and 60s were made of precast reinforced concrete posts with drop-in concrete panels and flat metal window frames. Some had an entrance on the pavement side (A), others had an open end (B). The fully enclosed type usually had a bench seat inside. In towns where pavements were too narrow a half shelter was provided, the enclosed side facing the street so passengers were protected by the shelter on one side and the buildings on the other. Those I remember used the same concrete sections and metal window frames as the fully enclosed types. An example of a half-shelter using pre-cast concrete parts with a corrugated roof and metal window frames is shown below bottom left. In the later 1950s or early 1960s the windows in some bus shelters adopted a different pattern, as shown below bottom right.

Fig___ Pre-1980s bus shelters
Bus shelters

In the later 1970s or early 1980s there was a shift toward 'vandal proofing' things like bus shelters, but one aspect of this appeared to be the erection of pre-vandalised structures. Older wooden shelters in the country lost the glass in their windows and broken windows in the concrete types were rarely replaced. As the old reinforced concrete shelters were cleared away the replacements featured tubular metal frames with sheet metal inserts and often plastic windows. The problem with plastic is that when it scratches it does not, like glass, self-heal and the windows rapidly become translucent rather than transparent. Some were truly awful, others were sometimes maintained, but all were the targets for graffiti. In the illustration below a well maintained, and less well maintained example are shown top. In the 1990s concerns about bus stops being used by drug takers and as hideouts by street gangs saw another shift and a new type of shelter appeared, essentially a roof, one wall and one end in plain glass with the remaining end formed of an advertising hoarding as shown below bottom. Up to about 2002 these often had the advert at the end seen by approaching traffic, preventing passengers from seeing the approaching bus. Subsequently the advert was moved to the 'trailing' end of the shelter.

Fig___ Post-1980s bus shelters
 Post 1980s Bus shelters

These rather crude structures were not confined to the buses, the same basic design was adopted by the Manchester Metrolink tram system to replace the rather handsome brick buildings with their ornate cast iron awnings on the Altrincham line, doubtless this sounded sensible when the salesman explained it to them. They have now been replaced by the more stylish advertising hoarding type of shelter (the older shelters remain in place but have had the glass removed, I have no idea why). The remaining original railway company brick buildings which were not demolished are now being sold off for offices.

Fig___ Original shelter provided on the Manchester Metrolink tram stations
Manchester tram shelter


The taxi pre-dates the omnibus although the name taxi is a relatively recent feature. Elizabeth 1st authorised the use of 'Hackney horses' to provide hire services but I have not been able to trace the details of their operation. I think they operated as a 'hire car' service but the state of the roads meant these were not terribly comfortable. In 1634 the first Hackney Carriage rank was established in London but in the same year the sedan chair appeared offering a cheaper alternative. The sedan chair was an enclosed box with a seat inside carried by two men using long poles on the sides, introduced from Italy by a chap called Sanders Dunscombe. The 'Hackney Carriage' name comes from the London borough of Hackney because horses had been bred there since the fourteenth century, this is also the origin of the word 'hack' for a working horse.

The first recorded use of a fleet of vehicles licensed for general hire dates from 1640 when a company was established in Paris. In 1643, Oliver Cromwell granted licenses for 200 'hackney carriages' to ply for hire in the streets of London. The legal term for a properly licensed taxi remains Hackney Carriage today and the laws relating to its use remain full of references to horse drawn days. Up to the 1970's a licensed hackney carriage had to carry 'food for the horse' and a policeman could fine the driver if he did not have any straw in the boot of the vehicle. Only a licensed hackney carriage is allowed to stop and pick people up on the street. The system worked and similar companies prospered. Numbers for licensed vehicles were introduced by the French police in 1703.

The French had a passion for numbering things, they also introduced house numbers, a practice the British found objectionable from the time it was introduced in London in 1764 (there is a scene in the 1950s film the Titfield Thunderbolt where one of the villagers is complaining that the bureaucrats will soon make them have house numbers in place of names). There are problems with house numbers, for one thing houses tend to get knocked down and rebuilt, not always with the same number of houses on the site. Addresses that change unpredictably are a problem and the solution adopted was to add a letter to the house number, the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes lived at 221B Baker Street, where two smaller houses had been built on the site of a single larger building. Even so by the mid nineteenth century things had deteriorated to the point where several official reports did not use the house numbers on streets where the numbering had fallen into disarray. I think it was Italy that tried a system where the number of the house was the distance in metres of the front door from the end of the street, although less problematic this approach failed to catch on.

In Britain the sedan chair continued in use into the eighteenth century but horse drawn transport was by this time a viable alternative as the city streets were often paved or cobbled. Most of the horse drawn vehicles were based on the French two wheeled 'cabriolet' introduced in Britain in the 1790's. The name of the vehicle became synonymous with the service and the abbreviated word 'cab' entered the language. In 1834 an architect by the name of Joseph Aloysius Hansom living in Yorkshire designed an improved vehicle he christened the Hansom Cab. This was a one horse two wheeled vehicle (technically a kind of cabriolet) capable of carrying two passengers and fitted with very large wheels over seven feet (2.1m) diameter. The driver sat on a raised seat behind the passenger compartment and communicated with them via a lift up hatch on the roof. Hansom sold the design but the company that bought it defaulted on the debt and he never actually got paid for his work. Improvements involving some major changes to the original design were introduced in 1836 by John Chapman, a political writer, but these were still called Hansom Cabs. Chapman's version of the Hansom Cab was used all over Britain although they are mainly associated with London.

Not all horse drawn cabs were these two-wheelers however, if you look at old photographs you will see a number of covered four wheeled carriages parked at the cab rank. These had the driver in the more usual position at the front. One popular four wheeled cab was the Brougham, named after Lord Brougham who designed the carriage in about 1838. The Brougham is a four-wheeled close carriage adapted to either two or four persons having a curved opening underneath the driver's seat to allow the front wheels to turn sideways and hence able to turn in a narrow space.

Fig___ Hansom and Brougham Cabs

 Hansom and Brougham Cabs

Horse drawn cabs, mostly four wheeled in later years, remained a feature of British life into the 1940s, possibly the early 1950s, but the motor cab was by then the norm. All horse drawn vehicles including cabs were banned from parts of London in the later 1930s but this was mainly because the job of collecting the horse droppings had become too dangerous due to the increase in motor traffic.

Licensed hackney carriage drivers have to undergo a test called the Knowledge, proving they know their way around the town or city in which they work (hire car drivers do not pas such a test). The Knowledge test was introduced in London in 1851, it is still used today and it takes the typical applicant about two and a half years hard work to learn enough to pass the test. The drivers have to demonstrate that they know a wide range of routes and also know the location of all the hospitals, police stations, hotels, theatres, churches etc. All taxi drivers are independent professionals who own or lease their cab (two men might share a cab, one working nights the other days), taxi companies advertising 'black cab' services are actually radio dispatchers who hire out their service to the taxi drivers.

The word Taxi comes from a German invention of about 1890 called the Taxameter, which measured the distance traveled. Within a year or two this had been modified to show the fare as well and they gained popularity in Berlin and Paris. The meter arrived in Britain in the later 1890's (one was fitted to a hansom cab in London in 1898) and the British changed name of the device to Taximeter. Cabs fitted with this device were commonly called 'taximeter cabs' and the meter became a legal requirement in about 1907. The name of the vehicle was then shortened to taxi by popular usage. Horse drawn cabs, fitted with the taximeter, remained in use in some locations into the 1940s, possibly the early 1950s.

The original design of meter has a metal 'flag' on the top, when raised this is visible from outside the cab and it carries the legend 'For Hire', when this flag is pushed down, out of sight, it starts the taximeter running. On motor cabs with the illuminated 'taxi' sign on the roof the light is linked to the meter and is only lit when the for hire flag is visible. Since the 1970s an all electronic meter has been developed, the metal flag being replaced by a yellow illuminated sign on the top of the meter. Part of the licensing requirement for a taxi is having the meter tested and checked for accuracy by the local authority, it is then sealed to prevent tampering.

The first motor cab equipped with a Taximeter was put on the market by the French firm Renault in 1904. In the years that followed the British imported many taxi cabs from France and well as producing a range of designs themselves. Most were modified motor cars but a small number of motorcycle and sidecar combination taxis were built in the 1920s. There were also a number of three wheeler designs, BSA built a few and one of their Ba-Tax cabs from Brighton has been restored to working order. The motorcycle taxis were never common (several towns banned them, including London) and details are hard to find. Ian Mackay found an article in The Classic Motor Cycle (June 84 edition) including a photograph dated 1921 showing two newly commissioned machines in Harrogate, Yorkshire. The sketch below is based on the photograph accompanying the article. There was also an earlier article on the rates charged by these motorcycle taxis in the Apr 84 edition of the same magazine. This earlier article would suggest that meters were not fitted to these motorcycle taxis, apparently they offered fixed rates for trips to the theatre and cinema and in the photograph I was not able to see any evidence of the meter on the machine. It is worth noting that 'safety glass' was not available until 1923 (and it only became compulsory in 1937) so the big glass windows on the sidecar would have been plain glass. The principal British taxi manufacturer was Austin, entering the field in 1907, the sketch below shows one of their early designs dating from about 1937.

Fig___ Pre World War Two cabs

Motorcycle taxi and Austin Taxi Cab

One characteristic of British cabs up to the 1950s was the door-less open space where the front passenger seat would normally be. This was reserved as a luggage or 'trunk' space and was equipped with securing points so trunks and large suitcases could be lashed into place. Not all taxi cabs had this but it was standard on the Austin designs until the mid 1950's and examples remained in service into the late 1960s.

The Austin taxi dominated the British market it until they sold the rights to their final variant (the FX4) in 1982. The new owner was a company called Carbodies, part of the Manganese Bronze plc group who have continued the evolution of the vehicle (although the FX4 was so popular the shape has been copied for the latest modern TX1 cabs). The FX4 (with a side door covering the luggage space) was introduced in 1958 and then remained in production (incorporating many modifications) until 1997, I am told it vies with the Mini for being the longest production run for a British car. Most taxis were black (although this is not a requirement) my sketches are tinted blue to make the basic shape more visible.

Fig___ Post war Austin FX3 and FX4 Cabs

Austin Taxi Cab

Note the orange flashing turning indicators on the roof of the 1950s cab, these replaced small arms with an illuminated (non flashing) orange triangle on the end, usually called 'trafficators'. These roof top and flip-out indicators were still seen into the 1970s however I believe all new vehicles had to have flashing turning indicators mounted front and rear and red brake lights at the rear by the end of the 1960s. The older cab has no indicators at all, relying on hand signals by the driver when turning or braking.

Not all taxis were purpose built machines, vehicles as small as the Austin Seven were also used. All licensed taxis had a meter but not all had the sign on the roof, following a change in the law in 1920 hackney carriages were required to display a 'distinctive plate' issued by the council and this plate had to state the number of passengers the vehicle was licensed to carry.

By the 1920s there were also cars for hire and I believe there were the equivalent of 'mini cabs' operated from some railway stations in rural areas. Only a licensed hackney carriage cab can be hailed in the street, mini-cabs and the like have to be booked by telephone or by turning up at the office of the company. In quieter areas the main source of trade would be the railway station so opening a car hire office there made sense, assuming the local authority would licence such a company (quite a few did not).

The driver of the older types of horse drawn and motor cabs was somewhat exposed and of course there was no heater so the drivers tended to take shelter in the nearest pub to the cab rank. In the 1870s the Temperance Movement was seeking to reduce the consumption of alcohol and they arranged for the provision of taxi drivers shelters by the rank, offering a warm stove and non alcoholic drinks (mainly tea).

Quite a number of these shelters were built in London (the last opened in 1914) and they were also seen in other towns and cities around the country (my own local town had at least three). The shelters were often seen close by a railway station and in other locations such as the end of the main shopping street in the town. All the examples I know of were simple wooden structures (although some were quite tidy designs) with a door at one end, small windows along the sides and a stove pipe chimney, usually at the opposite end to the door. Larger shelters, found near bigger ranks, might have a brick built chimney and often had a small bee-hive ventilator on top of the roof somewhere about the centre. The example shown below is one of two smaller shelters built to the same design in my local town in about 1900. When horse drawn taxis were in operation there would often be a sack or two of feed close by, the taxi shelter at the local station often had a couple of sacks hanging from the spikes on the railings, keeping them clear of the floor and out of the reach of any rats or mice from the nearby drains.

Fig___ Taxi drivers shelter

Taxi drivers shelter

By the 1930s the shelter would have a telephone so people could call for a cab, where no shelter was provided the council would often set up a locked box containing a telephone and rent out keys to cab drivers. The phone in the box had no dial so could not theoretically be used to make an outgoing call although those in the know realised the receiver rest could be tapped to 'dial' the required number. As so few people had telephones this was not a problem until the 1940s but as recently as the 1950s it was possible to 'tap' the number into a call box phone and avoid having to pay.

With the improvements in cab design in the later 1950s the taxi drivers shelters began to fall from use and the widespread adoption of radios in the later 1970s finished them and the telephone boxes off (although I gather there are a few taxi drivers shelters still operating in London where the trade at the ranks and from being hailed in the street is brisk enough not to require the use of radio dispatch). The last of the locked taxi rank telephone boxes I know of was removed in the early 1990s.

In Britain the Governments obsession with doing things 'on the cheap' means that the British taxi industry is still operating in a fairly crude and uncoordinated way. In many continental countries the local authority operates a single central radio dispatch service, the calls being routed automatically to the cabs they licence so everyone gets a fair share of the trade on a 'swings and roundabouts' basis. This offers a superior service to the customers and a more stable income to the drivers but goes against the British tradition of the national and local government avoiding responsibility for the provision of services wherever possible.

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