Part 3 – Post-war reorganisation and the first low-floors

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Buses like Matilda were a common sight on Canberra's roads in this era.
Buses like Matilda were a common sight on Canberra’s roads in this era.

An interesting point considered by the Canberra Advisory Council during 1946 concerned the operation of double decker buses in Canberra. One member of the Council had urged the Council’s adoption of a double decker bus experiment, so a report was requested from the Transport department manager. This report, presented to the Council in September 1946 advised against the buying of any double decker buses, for the following reasons:

– Double decker buses were more costly in maintenance,
– Riding qualities on the top deck were not satisfactory,
– The height of a double decker bus would interfere with the foliage around Canberra
– The numerous stops in Canberra, the corners to be negotiated and the time taken to load and unload would slow down the timetables, and
– The construction of double decker buses was not suitable to the rigorous winter in Canberra.

The advisory council accepted the report uncritically, without questioning any of the points raised. One member of the council however, did remark on the fact that a private operator to Canberra, Quodling Bros, had been able to secure a new post-war bus quicker than the Transport Department. The bus referred to, MO 3113, was a white semi-trailer, with a body by MBA which was delivered to Quodlings on 12 August 1946.

The delay in the delivery of the eighteen buses ordered was by April 1947 holding up extensions to the service. At this time, only five of the eighteen Syd Wood bodied AEC’s had arrived, so it was decided to go ahead with only the most pressing of the planned extensions, namely that to the Southern end of the run to Narrabundah. This extension was opened on 19 May 1947, serviced by a limited number of trips daily and developing areas at New Griffith and Turner had to wait for an improved service.

During October 1947, two other delays occurred in the improving of the service. One was the fact that some new streets in Turner were incomplete, with a culvert over which it was proposed to run buses, unmade. The other delay was the announcement that a forty hour working week would be introduced in January 1948. The bus management naturally had to wait until working times were arranged with its staff, and for its customers, before timetabling any peak hour services.

The population of the ACT had by this time doubled since 1933, and stood at almost 17,000. The sixteen Syd Wood bodied AEC Regal half cabs were to be followed immediately by orders totaling forty-six Commonwealth Engineering bodied units, also to be the half-cab design. The Syd Wood units were delivered between October 1946 and June 1948; the Com-Eng buses between November 1948 and June 1951. All Syd Wood post-war buses had numberplates in the C.54000 series, commencing at about C.54160, while the Com-Eng buses were C.59000 series late, in the mid C.59300 area. No other specific fleet number was carried.

The earliest of these additions enabled a revision to the service to be made. On 8 March 1948, new routes were introduced for the bus service, which remained on basically a Kingston to Ainslie route, with seven intermediate routes on the south side of the civic centre, and four variations on the north side. The route variations with the designations employed were:

North Side
A – via Acton
B – via Commonwealth Bridge
F – via Farrer Street Braddon
R – via Euree St Reid
T – via Turner

South Side
1 – via Manuka, Forrest, Deakin, State Circle
2 – via Manuka, Forrest, National Circuit, Barton
3 – via Griffith, Manuka, Forrest, National Circuit, Barton
4 – via Griffith, Manuka, Forrest, Deakin, State Circle
5 – via Griffith, Manuka, Barton
6 – via Manuka and Barton
7 – via Wentworth Ave

Southern routes commenced from The Causeway or the Railway station before arriving at Kingston Shops. As before, the terminus of a particular journey was shown on the side indicator only, with the code for the trip showing on the front. A stranger to Canberra was easily baffled by a bus approaching showing “2AR” on the front, but a regular would know that this bus was travelling from Kingston to the spot nominated on the side roll (usually Ainslie) via Manuka, Forrest, National Circuit and Barton (Route 2) to the City Centre (not stated) via Acton (A) then proceeding via Reid (R).

In addition to the school runs to the Cotter Rive, and the base services covered in Part Two, trips were worked to Westridge and Duntroon, with peak hour trips twice daily from Barton direct to the Commonwealth offices on the opposite side of the river, via Scotts Crossing. These services showed the name of the destination on the front of the bus, with no code allocated.

These route codes explain why no destination box was fitted to the Canberra half-cabs, instead featuring two small boxes side by side, similar to route number boxes. The older buses only had one small route number box fitted to the front and needed a metal plate affixed beside the single box to show the complete route.

With the delivery of the Syd Wood bodied AEC diesels, the sale commenced of old petrol engined buses, and some of the pre-war diesels. Petrol engined Commers went to Lindsey Bros of Hallsend (MO 416) and Glen Hempnich of Georgetown (MO 448). Fogg’s motor service purchased the 1936 AEC Mercury, formerly of the Cotter River school run, and converted it into a large bus by cutting and shutting. The result became MO 535. Petrol engined AECs went to Lindsey Bros, Hallsend (MO 414) and Hunter Valley Coaches of Maitland (MOs 3537, 3555 and others).

Hunter Valley Coaches of Maitland also purchased some early Syd Wood bodied diesels during 1948/9, some of which became MOs 3544, 3799, 3808, 3860 and 3872. Others were used for spares, but the Canberra service was left with only seven pre-war buses after these sales. These seven remained until 1955/56 when they were sold to Stone Bros of Auburn, Punchbowl Bus Co and Merryland Bus Co, all in Sydney.

Two 1948 OB Bedford school buses with CAC bodies joined the Canberra fleet to commence the 1949 school year. Used exclusively as school buses, they were 31 seater models, destined to carry ACT Children until 25 November 1958 when they were sold to Sydney operator H Deane. The livery was the usual Canberra “biscuit” fawn with a wide yellow band, trimmed in red.

The method of working at this time was with two man operation of public trips with half cab type buses. As far as possible, one driver was allocated one bus, which he kept for all his work. This explains, in part, how it was possible to work sixty-five buses (by 1953) without fleet numbers.

Early in 1953, a two-man committee was appointed to consider the operation of the Canberra Bus Services. This committee brought in a recommendation that one man operation should be introduced and it stated that the level of operation being maintained could be carried out by using 47 one-man buses, with each bus driven as required by any driver, instead of the 62 two-man buses. This report immediately found favour, if for no other reason that the buses had lost £35381 in 1950/51 and £62617 in 1951/52 and one-man operation would reduce this.

Other operational improvements introduced as a result of this 1953 enquiry were the purchase of 36 “Getright” ticket issuing machines in 1953 and a further 24 in 1954, and the provision of four key-operated clocks on the bus routes

In accordance with this report, the Department of Transport ordered six underfloor engined AEC Reliance 470 chassis with Commonwealth Engineering bodies, in September 1955 with an allocation of £ 37675 for the purpose. They were to be either one or two man operations, and were equipped with destination boxes of conventional proportions at the front. The first five, built respectively on 14 March 1956, 20 March 1956 and 27 March 1956 were delivered to Canberra on 4 April 1956. Three more followed in May and these were the first underfloor engined buses in the Canberra fleet. They received numberplates from C.001 to C.006 not in order of body dates, and were replacements for six half-cab AECs.

Worthy of note is the fact that in the three years from March 1953 to March 1956, the number of motor cars in the ACT increased by fifty percent (to 9,041 for 34,000 people) and the number of bus passengers was falling.

Orders for Com-Eng bodied AEC Reliance 470s followed for four buses (delivered April/June 1957) and four buses (delivered June-Sep 1957) which became C.007 to C.014 in order of delivery.

On 25 May 1956, the area being built on as a residential district between Reid and the Royal Military College Duntroon, known up until then by the general name of Duntroon was renamed ‘Campbell’. The bus service continued to use the name ‘Duntroon’ as its destination, as most trips continued through Campbell to the vicinity of the military college. On 5 January 1959 the industrial service to Fyshwick was diverted through Campbell to augment the bus service to this area.

C.0015, the next bus to join the fleet, was an international school bus on a small truck chassis, purchased completed with body. It was a short lived vehicle in the DOT fleet however as it was replaced twelve months after acquisition in May 1959 by an International coachette AA130, fitted with a 24 seater body. The number plate of this vehicle is unconfirmed however could have been C.0015 – the plate taken by its predecessor.

Two further AEC Reliance 470’s – C.0016 and C.0017 – delivered in June 1958 were to be the last built to the original Com-Eng design for Canberra. This design featured side windows set in rubber inserts, with full length sliding panes.

On 16 March 1959, two buses entered service in Canberra hailed by the Department as the ‘most modern buses in Australia’. They were the first of an order for eight buses, which were to be delivered between late February and July 1959, numbered C.0018 to C.0025. Designed for one-man operation, these buses had no side destination boxes and were fitted from new with heating and cooling systems in the saloon. Seating was an improvement on earlier models, and the windows were divided into two sections – a lower fitted section with a small sliding section at the top of the wind. Safety for school children was in mind there, as well as draught prevention. The bell cord was replaced b a plastic tube, which activated a light in the forward section when touched. Electrically operated demisters were another feature dictated by the Canberra winter climate. These buses were AEC Reliance 470 chassis, fitted with Commonwealth Engineering bodies.

The next batch of Com-Eng Reliances commenced delivery in December 1959 and continued through to July 1960. Number plates C.0026 through to C.0036 were issued to the first eleven of the twelve ordered. The 12th bus of the order, C.0037, was not delivered until November 1960 and differed from the others in being fitted with air suspension. This bus was built on one of two similar chassis imported by AEC and when it entered service it was the first AEC with imported air suspension to go on the road in Australia. The other chassis imported was sold to the Brisbane City Council.

The fleet at this stage remained at 65 buses and consisted of 36 AEC Reliances and 29 AEC Regal IIIs for the City services.

After evaluation of No. 37, orders were then placed for sixteen Reliances fitted with all the features found desirable. These buses, also Com-Eng bodied, became C.0038 to C.0053 between April and August 1961. Officially, these sixteen would replace ten Regal half-cabs, and leave six for additional units in the fleet.

For school work, mainly to outer areas such as Hall, Tharwa and Weetangera), some special vehicles were used. In July 1960, two Albion Nimbus underfloor engined buses, with 31 seater Com-Eng bodies joined this section of the fleet, becoming C.0085 and C.0086. Two Austin A152 (series 11) minibuses followed, statistically and numerically, in February 1961. These minibuses were fitted with full length seats, carried a demister and had access by means of a rear step.

Because of their limited capacity, the Austins were replaced late in 1962 by two BMC school buses, fitted with bodies of about twenty adult passenger capacity by Vehicle Builders Pty Ltd. These buses took over the 87 and 88 numberplates and remained in the fleet until May 1967, when one was sold to become the Colo Heights to Windsor (NSW) School bus (MO 4146), with the other going to a private buyer in Sydney, as did the two Austin minibuses. One more Austin was part of the fleet – ZIB 089 which was delivered in May 1964.