Motor-Bus Appears

One of Mr.Dalrymples’ recommendations, made in 1925, was that the trolley bus should be tried out on some routes. However, the idea had occurred to Mr.Remington as early as in 1913. But with the outbreak of World War I, it had to be shelved like many other bright ideas. It was taken down from the shelf in 1919, and a trolley bus service between the Dadar Tram Terminus and King’s Circle was planned as an experimental measure. But the plan ran into difficulties, with its financial aspects causing disagreement with the Municipality. And finally, it was given up. 

Simultaneous consideration was given to the feasibility of a motor-bus service. The two main objections trotted out against such a service were : (1) The service would be expensive and (2) The accident rate will go up. Even in a city like London, with the orderly ways of its pedestrians and its vehicular traffic, the accident rate for buses is comparatively very high. It would be much higher in Mumbai. However, the motor bus was allowed a few points in its favour :(1) It is not tied to the rails as the tram-car is.

(2) The vehicles can be quickly moved to the points where they are urgently needed.

(3) It can operate on relatively narrow roads.

The Great Debate started in 1913 : the trolley bus or the motor bus? And it went on cheerfully till 1926, with the Municipality, the B.E.S.T. Company, the Commissioner of Police and the others concerned with the problem joining the fray. Finally, 10th February 1926, the Company plumped for the motor bus. It was to run, as an experiment, on three routes. The routes were : Afghan Church to the Crawford Market, Dadar Tram Terminus to King’s Circle, via Parsi Colony, and Opera House to Lalbag via Lamington Road and Arthur Road. The approval of the Commissioner of Police and the Municipality having been obtained, the service on the first of these routes was scheduled to operate from 15th July 1926. The Times of India of 14th July carried the following announcement.



On and from to-morrow, 15th instant, a regular 10 minutes service will be run from AFGHAN CHURCH to CRAWFORD MARKET via WODEHOUSE ROAD and HORNBY ROAD from 6.30 to 23.20


Station First Bus Last Bus
AFGHAN CHURCH 6.30 23.00



C. Lucas

Traffic Manager

As scheduled, Mumbai saw its first bus run on 15th July 1926. It received a hearty welcome from the people, just as the electric tram had. The Times of India of 16th July reported the inauguration of the bus service as under :The Bombay Tramway Company’s new omnibus service commenced on Thursday, as already announced. A fleet of four buses plied from Middle Colaba to Crawford Market and back at an interval of about 10 minutes. The public took to the service favourably and, even allowing some margin for the initial rush due to the novelty of the thing, the public patronage appeared to be encouraging. The drive from Middle Colaba to Crawford Market occupied about 10 minutes and was generally comfortable.

An officer of the Company told a representative of the Times of India that the Company were closely watching the service with a view to making it perfectly agreeable to the public. Any of the slightest inconvenience felt by the public, he said, would be attended to by the authorities.

The buses will be disinfected everyday and kept neat and tidy. The quickness with which the distance is covered, the short intervals at which the buses are available and the regularity of the service, not to speak of the cheapness of the fares compared with a taxi or gharry, are factors which the public are likely to appreciate. Should there be adequate response and should the public demand warrant it, the Company are prepared to increase the number of buses. Two more are already in course of construction. The Company are also contemplating to run the service to the Parsi Colony at Dadar and it is expected the scheme will be materialised in a month’s time”.

As was only to be expected, there were protests against the service by those whose interests were affected by it, just as many years earlier the introduction of the horse-drawn tram had provoked drivers of ‘reklas’ and horse-drawn vehicles into agitation. This time it was the ‘victoria-drivers and taxi-drivers’. But this agitation was mild and constitutional. The taxi-owners petitioned to the Commissioner of Police to give them protection against this fresh encroachment on their field of activity. They complained that the cheapness of the bus fare and the proximity of the bus stops to the taxi stands were depriving them of their income, and argued that the spread of the bus service to all the parts of the city would ruin the taxi trade, and also vest in the Tramway Company the practical monopoly of vehicular communication in the city.

The Police Commissioner rejected the taxi-owners’ representation firmly, if also persuasively. He stated that the competition of the bus service was absolutely legitimate, and that the police were under no obligation to help one class of public conveyance against another. He also pointed out that in all the big cities of the world taxi-cabs are in demand side by side with the buses, and that the class of people who ride in buses are different from those who use taxis. He added that if any kind of conveyance was going to suffer it was the victoria.

The victoria-owners followed the taxi-owners in their attempt to have the bus service withdrawn. The Chairman of the Victoria-Owners’ Association sent up a petition to the Standing Committee of the Municipal Corporation in this regard. It expressed the fear that the bus would soon drive the victoria off the roads, as the latter had already been facing serious difficulties on account of the rise in prices.

This petition too was ineffectual. Bus service started on 15th July 1926. The Times of India of 20th July 1926 commented on the bus service in its ‘Current topics’ column. It pointed out that buses were a particularly convenient mode of transport during the rainy season. It would seem from the note that in the first few days the service was largely patronised by the  ‘Sahibs’. The taxi was expensive, and one could not be sure of getting it when one needed it. The victoria, of course, was much too slow a vehicle. Moreover, it had no fixed schedule of fares. All this seemed to make the Times feel confident that the bus was soon going to be popular.

This confidence of the Times was certainly not misplaced. The bus service did better and better, and within a year it started expanding. From January 1927, the Company started hiring out buses for private use.

Like the tram, the Mumbai bus established several ‘firsts’. For the first time in the country, the city had a bus running on diesel oil, a double decker bus and an eight-foot wide bus.

In the early days the bus fare used to be from two annas to six annas. There were no half fares for children till 1928. For some time return tickets used to be issued.

Another interesting feature : Between 1928 and 1930 each bus carried a letter-box for the convenience of the passengers, and the postal service as well.


The people of Mumbai received the bus with enthusiasim, but it took quite some time before this means of conveyance really established itself. For several years, it was looked upon as transport for the upper middle class. Those were the days when the tram was the poor man’s transport. It carried you all the way from Sassoon Dock to Dadar for a mere anna and a half. The bus fare for the same journey was four annas. The organisation had to struggle to make the ends meet by drawing more and more passengers. However, they did come in growing numbers and the company kept expanding its service with confidence. In its first year – that is, by 31st December 1926 – about six lakhs passengers used the service; for 1927, the figure was about 38 lakhs. The Company started its operations with 24 buses. In 1927, the fleet had expanded to 49.

The next few years were uneasy years, with strikes (1928), communal riots (1929) and, most important of all, the Civil Disobedience Movement (1930-32). Inevitably, these events affected the transport system. 1930 was a particularly difficult year. The number of passengers carried by the service dropped rather suddenly, what with the strikes, the frequent ‘hartals’ and the trade depression. The Company had to be on its toes to meet all these difficulties. It also kept up its efforts to provide a faster and more comfortable service. In March 1930 concessional rates were introduced on short journeys. This worked immediately, sending up the number of passengers. It also enabled the company to fit in more trips per vehicle. Even then the income kept lagging behind the expenditure. But the company bravely kept the service going, for with its sense of commitment to the citizens it had always looked beyond the balance sheet. And it soon turned the corner. More and more passengers were attracted to the bus service. In those days of economic depression a large number of car-owners found that this public transport suited their pockets better.

In response to the pleas made by the Government and the Municipal Corporation, the Company extended its service to the northern part of the city in 1934. The first routes to be added were : (1) Byculla Bridge to King’s Circle, via Dadar and the Parsi Colony. (2) Lalbaug to Worli via Curry Road and Fergusson Road (3) Dadar to Mahim. Whatever doubts the Company had about public patronage were now set at rest. The number of passengers carried by the buses kept steadily increasing, and so did the income. The total expenditure, which had not increased at the same rate, was distributed over more vehicles. The Company was soon in a position to reduce the fares, particularly for the longer journeys. The bus routes were reorganised with a view to meeting the needs of the travelling public. An interesting experiment was the issue of a Whole Day Ticket during the Christmas Holidays. The ticket entitled one to travel anywhere in the city on the day – and that for just twelve annas. Started in 1935, this scheme achieved great popularity. It was withdrawn when the Second World War broke out.

Double-decker buses were introduced in 1937 in order to cope better with the growing traffic. The single-deck vehicle carried 36 passengers, the double-decker could take as many as 58. This, and its sheer size and look made the double-decker popular as soon as it was put on the roads.

The Second World War started in 1939. It had a sharp and immediate impact on the life in a city like Mumbai. There were the inevitable shortages. Road transport was hit by the shortage of tyres and the rationing of petrol. Owners of motor-cars found it rough going, and many of them switched over to the bus service. This created a problem for the service : too many passengers and too few buses. It was almost impossible to procure more vehicles. And the cost of running the buses, and maintaining them, kept on mounting. The Company however faced this situation resolutely.

Ways had to be devised to minimise the inconvenience caused to the passengers, and they were. The structure of the single-deck bus, for example, was so modified as to provide seats on top of it – without a roof, above them, of course. This enlarged the capacity of the bus to sixty, but the unlucky ones riding on the top were exposed to sun and rain. The sun they could brave, but not the rain. Why not put up a temporary roof, suggested the Regional Transport Authority. But the Engineering Department of the Company was sceptical : Could the chassis take all the additional weight? This should give some idea of the woeful insufficiency of buses in relation to the volume of traffic. The Company then came out with a novel proposal. The office in the city, it suggested, should stagger their working hours so that the pressure on the service during rush hours would be distributed a little more evenly. The pressure had, by pre-war standards, become almost alarming. Intending passengers would storm a bus when it had hardly pulled up at a stop. There would be sharp exchanges between conductors and passengers, and they did not always remain purely verbal. As a result the buses were often held. up. The overcrowding put a strain on the vehicles, and they were soon in a sorry state. Something had to be done about it, and that too quite soon. The Motor Vehicles Act had no provision for imposing a limit on the number of passengers a bus might carry. The very necessity for the provision brought it into existence before long. Accordingly no more than six standees were allowed on the lower deck. Those breaking the regulation were liable to prosecution. The regulation, a creation of the war years, became a permanent feature.


The first Limited Bus Service in Mumbai, and probably the first in the country as well, started running in February 1940, between Colaba and Mahim. It was specially designed to provide quick transport for those living at or near the northern end of the city. In its early days the service was restricted to the office-goers rush-hours in the mornings and evenings to discourage short-distance passengers from using the service, a minimum fare of two annas was charged. Such was the response to the Limited Buses, however, that soon their confinement to the rush hours was lifted, and they started running the whole day.


A trolley bus service for the city was thought up for the first time by Mr. Remington in 1913. Once again, in 1937 one Shri S.R. Prasanna proposed to the Mayor that the trams and motor-buses should be replaced by trolley buses. The Mayor forwarded the proposal to the B.E.S.T. Company for its opinion. Scrapping of all the trams and motor-buses and acquiring a whole fleet of trolley-buses to take their place would have landed the Company in very heavy expenditure. Apart from it, it would have been impossible for a trolley-bus service to cope with the heavy traffic in a city like Mumbai. There was also a practical difficulty : Unlike a tram car, a trolley bus cannot change its direction without actually turning round. A trolley bus service would have been financially feasible only when new rails had to be laid to replace the worn-out ones on all the routes. But with the efficient way in which the tram tracks were maintained, this was not likely to happen in the near future. As for their capacity, three trolley buses would have been required to carry the load of two tram cars. The much appreciated convenience of ‘Transfer Tickets’ would have to be withdrawn. The fares would have to be increased A trolley-bus is more prone to breakdowns than is a tram car, as its electrical mechanism is more complicated than that of a tram car. If a road was under repairs the trolley bus service using it would have to be suspended. These and other objections of the kind were raised by the Company. They worked, and the trolley bus project once again came to nothing. And it all confirmed that the motor bus had come to stay and would stay for a long, long time in Mumbai.

The B.E.S.T. Company launched its motor-bus service on 15th July 1926 with a modest fleet of twenty-four vehicles. On 7th August 1947, the Municipal Corporation took over the Company. During the twenty-one years in between, the fleet had swollen to 242 vehicles.

One Response to “Motor-Bus Appears”

  1. Type-In Domain Management Says:

    Very interesting site… I wish I could write like you! Miky

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