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.
THE BOMBAY ELECTRIC SUPPLY AND TRAMWAYS CO. LTD.
MOTOR BUS SERVICE
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
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 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
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.
PEOPLE TAKE TO THE BUS
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
LIMITED BUS SERVICE
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.