ACTION’s “Downtowner” bus service was introduced on 9 December 1991. Two “tram buses” were specially built by Howard Porter Pty Ltd of Fremantle WA, and were actually built on Mitsubishi Truck chassis.
Two buses were initially purchased and were given fleet numbers 001 and 002, although these buses did not have visible fleet numbers on the outside of the bus, apart from their number plates.
Less than four months later, due to the popularity of the service, a third bus, (003) was ordered, with slight modifications made.
A trolley pole was added to the bus to make it even more realistic (along with kits to retro-fit these to the first two buses). A driver’s side door was also added upon the advice of the unions, as the engines were front mounted and drivers had to climb over them to get to their seats.
The buses were painted in the same colour as the first buses operated in the Canberra region, Maroon and Buff.
The slatted timber seating, made from highly polished Tasmanian Sheoak TImber, catered for 25 passengers.
Most seats were doubles, with a single behind and to the left of the driver. The door was after the driver’s window and the first window, with three more windows after it. The buses had two roof vents for ventilation, as well similar windows to the Renault PR buses. Two heaters were also located on the floor for the colder months.
The interior featured antique-style dome lighting. The bells were of the pull-cord variety, running along each side above the windows connected to a small brass bell at the front. The interior panels were crafted from polished Tasmanian oak.
The Downtowner service ran on a ten minute frequency between 9.00am and 4.30pm in a circular route linking City East and City West. The route numbers for this service were 300 and 301, depending which direction the bus traveled. Although the Downtowner buses did not have destination signs, the service was occasionally run by buses that did.
The Downtowner Route
START City Interchange, Alinga Street
L Marcus Clarke St
L Edinburgh Ave
R London Cct
R Constitution Ave
L Allara St
L Binara St
R Akuna St
L Ballumbir St
L Petrie Street
R Bunda St
L Mort St to City Interchange
There were 11 stops on the 4km, 15 minute route, with the bus running at 25 km/h. The route was designed to pass all major shops, government buildings and hotels in the area. All Downtowner stops had a special “Downtowner” sign on the bus stop, and shelters were painted the same colour as the buses, a dark maroon. Many of the shelters along the route were in the same dark maroon colour for many years after the service ceased.
The service had great benefits for shoppers and office workers, which was the intention, but it also fast became extremely popular with toursts, drawn by the benefit of a free ride around the CBD, as well as being able to get on and off the bus at stops knowing that the next one is only ten minutes away. Within days of the service beginning ACTION even received inquiries about hiring the buses for special events such as formals and wedding parties!
ACTION used advertising to offset the costs of the free service, with any ads being placed on the Downtowners being in the style of the buses themselves. The first company to advertise was local law firm, Snedden, Hall & Gallop on Bus 001. The Canberra Festival was advertised on Bus 003.
Towards the end of the service, standard buses would often operate instead of the tram-buses due to the popularity of the service, which ended in 1998. The three buses were advertised for sale in July 1998 and were purchased by Mountainlink in Katoomba.
Bus Specifications: MITSUBISHI FK417 TRAM BUS
Engine: Mitsubishi 6D16-1A Six cylinder inline direct injection, naturally aspirated, front mounted
Output: 127KW at 2900rpm
Max Torque: 477 Nm at 1400rpm
Bore/Stroke: 118mm x 115mm
Capacity: 7.545 litres
Compression Ratio: 18:1
Transmission: Allison AT545 four speed automatic
Chassis: Reinforced tapered channel 227.4x70x6.7mm, 840mm width
Front Axle: Reverse Elliot I beam, 3300kg capacity
Rear Axle: Mitsubishi D4H fuel floating hypoid. 5:428 ratio. Capacity 7700kg
Suspension: Semi-elliptic leaf. Double acting shock absorbers – front
Steering: Integral power assisted ball and nut 21.6 ratio. Steering wheel diameter 500mm. Tilt/height adjustable column
Brakes: Air=actuated hydraulic dual circuit. Rear-wheel spring actuated park brake
Wheels/Tyres: Two piece disc 16×6.00GS-135=9t. Tyres 8.25-18LT 14PR
Electrical: 24 volt negative earth. Alternator capacity 24V 50 amp. Starter capacity 24V 4.5kW Two 12 volt 400 CCA batteries
Gross Vehicle Mass: 9300kg
Front Overhang: 1195mm
Rear Overhang: 1600mm
Overall Length: 6.45m
Turning Circle: 13.2m
Front Track: 1745mm
Rear Track: 1660mm
Ground Clearance: 190mm
Tare Weight of Completed Vehicle: 5720kg
Truck and Bus Magazine April 1992, Fleetline Magazine July-August 1998 Issue