Inside the Collection

Sydney’s double deck buses are back

The Leyland Titan bus No. 2769
This Leyland Titan bus No. 2769, in the Museum’s collection, operated in Sydney and Newcastle between 1954 and 1976. Collection of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, B2235, gift of New South Wales Public Transport Commission Store, 1976.

The NSW Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, announced on 23 August 2012 that double deck buses are back on Sydney’s street for a trial. How did this all begin? The first private motor omnibus licence was issued on 21 April 1907 by Warringah Council to John Williams for his motor bus service from Manly to Pittwater. At this time Sydney was deeply in love with its trams. However, skills brought back by returned First World War ex-servicemen, who had gained experience with the new-fangled petrol-engined trucks in Europe, saw the rapid introduction of petrol-driven motor buses. By 1930 it was said that in Sydney there were 606 licensed buses run by 129 operators on 209 routes and running 221 services in the metropolitan area alone. Of these, 115 were in direct competition with Government trams! So serious was this threat to the established government tram routes, (the revenue was urgently needed to pay off the infrastructure loans), that legislation was passed which taxed many private operators off the roads.

This left the public literally stranded at bus stops so the Government was forced to introduce its own bus service, which began on Christmas Day in 1932, as Route 144 between Manly Wharf and Cremorne Junction, using buses hired from former private operators. By 1933 sixteen services were conducted by the Government. The development of bus technology, the introduction of the steel-framed bodies made buses reliable workhorses and the growing strength of the motor vehicle lobby, all convinced the Government to replace the electric trams and trolley buses, a strategy which began in 1939. But the changeover from trams to buses occurred gradually and was delayed during the Second Word War. Trams were all finally withdrawn from Sydney in 1961 and the single and double deck buses had the streets to themselves.

Black and white photo of the first NSW Government bus to cross Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1937
The first NSW Government bus to cross Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1937 on a service from Northbridge to Wynyard. Prior to this, buses were prohibited from using the bridge as they competed with trams. Photo courtesy of Richard Peck.

The Museum has two double deck buses in its collection which are tangible reminders of the halcyon days of Sydney’s double deck bus transport. One went into service in 1954 as No. 2769. It’s a Leyland Titan, type OPD2/1, with chassis number 511956. This tells us that it was the 1956th chassis made by Leyland in England in 1951. The body was built in Sydney by the Clyde Engineering Company at Granville.

Looking along upstairs aisle of the Museum's Leyland Titan double deck bus.
Looking along the upstairs aisle of the Museum’s Leyland Titan double deck bus.

This one’s very similar to the Route 144 double decker I remember travelling on as an 8-year-old with my grandmother who had an “arthritic leg”. It had the half driver’s cabin, front engine and open rear access platform. I well remember pleading with her to take us up the lurching curved staircase to sit upstairs amongst the swishing tree branches millimetres from awnings and with a wonderful view. There was scarcely a thought for the poor conductor who had to climb the stairs many times a day to collect the fares. Stories abound that these double deckers had a concrete-filled chassis to stop them from tipping over though school boys did try very hard by running from side to side upstairs.

With these rear entry buses there was always the danger of passengers running after a moving bus and jumping onto the open back platform. This was addressed with the later Leyland Atlantean buses which dispensed with the open platform in favour of doors at the front and centre. These allowed for one-person operation, with passengers paying the driver at the time of entry instead of a conductor on board. The Museum has an Atlantean, in fact it was the first in the fleet of 224 put into service in Sydney between 1970 and 1972. It’s No. 1001, type PDR1A/1, with chassis No. L 902557. The chassis was made by the British Leyland Motor Corporation in England, in 1969, and its body was made locally by the Pressed Metal Corporation in the Sydney suburb of Revesby.

Leyland Atlantean bus No.1001 at Willoughby Depot in 1972
The Museum’s Leyland Atlantean bus No.1001 at Willoughby Depot in 1972. Collection of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, B2412, gift of the Urban Transit Authority, 1981. Photo courtesy of Greg Travers.

During the 1970s there was considerable union unrest surrounding the use of the Atlanteans. In 1972 a 6-week stop work was undertaken over the removal of conductors from these buses. The State Government decided it no longer needed conductors which saw them re-employed as street ticket sellers, drivers and clerks. The unions objected because they felt it was unfair to expect the driver to drive, collect fares and monitor the upper deck via mirrors. This union concern saw almost all the double deckers being withdraw from service by 1980. Another factor towards their demise was the introduction of the single deck articulated “bendy” buses and a relaxation of the maximum length of single deckers to 14.5 metres. The last Atlantean buses were finally phased out in May 1986, ending the era of double deck bus operation in Sydney…until just recently…with the trial of new double deckers for some services out of Blacktown. These buses can carry about 110 passengers, twice the number of single deck ones, and take up less room on the road and at depots than the bendy buses. So what’s old is new again for another generation of bus travelling public.

Post by Margaret Simpson, Curator, Transport



One response to “Sydney’s double deck buses are back

  • I remember as kid going school on a double decker bus from bindi junction to dover heights boys high and the views were fantastic, I recently visited Sydney because I now live in Melbourne and have been for 40 odd years and expected to see these buses but to my dismay all I saw was all these single deck buses flooding the streets and traffic a mess , I went to a bus stop and sacked a conductor for the red tour bus and asked him when were the double decker buses removed and he looked at me like I was crazy and said what never seen them here so I asked him how long had he lived in Sydney and he replied 20 odd years and had never heard of them except for the tour bus , so that’s why I decided to google it and have learnt this information so in finishing I would like to say some are best left alone if it’s not broken those iconic buses were a tourist attraction as well as having less buses on the road and catching the red tour bus did back a lot of memory’s

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