History of Public Bus Transportation

Bus manufacturing around the world has become standardized with the same bus designs appearing in most countries. As part of the public transportation network, buses play a huge role in transporting people who do not or cannot own a vehicle. The American Public Transport Association estimated that in 2019, Americans took 9.9 billion trips on public transportation translating into 34 million trips every weekday.

As an $80 billion industry that employs over 448,000 people, public transportation has many benefits including providing economic opportunities, being a safer mode of travel as opposed to automobiles, saving money, reducing gasoline consumption and the carbon footprint, and enhancing personal opportunities. With all this in mind, it’s important to travel back in time to explore the origins of public bus transportation and see how it has developed over time to our current day and age. Let’s take a look in more detail below.

The horse-drawn omnibus

Perhaps the very first form of public transportation can be traced back to 1828 in France. This is when the horse-drawn omnibus was introduced to the public. It enabled as many as 25 to 50 people to share rides in urban cities. Operated by private entrepreneurs, these omnibuses, which were drawn by around three horses, served people from all classes in the busiest corridors in town. The idea soon spread to New York City in 1829, Philadelphia in 1831, Boston in 1835, and Baltimore in 1844.

The omnibus on rails

In New York City, just four years later in 1832, rails were installed on streets as a way of providing a smooth roadbed. This had a dual purpose: to benefit passengers and reduce the energy required to pull the vehicles. These horsecars running on iron rails offered a much smoother mode of travel and were also faster. Some sources indicated that in 1853, horsecars in New York alone carried about seven million riders. By the 1880s, major US cities had over 30,000 miles of street rail tracks for horsecars.

The cable car

Fast-forward to 1873 in San Francisco and we see the invention of the cable car. Essentially a rail vehicle that was dragged by a long cable that was pulled by steam power from a central station, its main aim was to deal with the steep hills of the city and reduce reliance on horses.

The steam and electric trains

Operating on fixed guideways or rails, the development of this form of transportation saw a huge demand for the installation of more rails. The beauty of these trains, however, was that they could be lengthened as much as needed at the time to cater to as many passengers as was required.

Independent steam locomotives came about in the middle of the 19th century or around the 1850s. These had the capacity to pull many cars simultaneously and serve busier routes. Because they could operate over longer distances than cable cars, they were considered much more reliable and faster. A primary reason for this was because they did not rely on a single, fragile cable. By 1876, the first elevated railroad was constructed in New York and this was considered the country’s first rapid transport.

A few decades after the steam locomotive’s introduction, we saw that steam would gradually be replaced by electric power as happened in Berlin in 1879. Electricity was perceived as quicker and cleaner.

Electric streetcars

Despite these developments and before the introduction of the automobile, the electric streetcar (also known as a trolley) seemed to be the ideal urban vehicle. They were much cleaner, faster, and efficient than cable cars. Inaugurated in Richmond, Virginia, in 1889, streetcars quickly came to displace horsecars. Consequently, by 1902, 94% of street railway mileage in the US was electrically powered.

The subway

The subway, by its very nature, is an underground form of public transportation. It was viewed as an alternative to streetcars and sought to be a more efficient mode of transport. In the 1890s, the Boston Transit Commission issued bonds to build a tunnel for streetcars and the first subway on the North American continent was officially opened in 1897.

The automobile

The turn of the century (20th century) saw the invention of the automobile. Giving travelers and owners a new sense of freedom, they could now travel along any route at any time they desired without the necessity for making stops for others. As a result, cars became a major competitor to public mass transportation.

The trolley coach

This was a rubber-tired bus which, similar to a streetcar, drew its power from overhead lines. Its deployment began in the early 1930s but their popularity did not catch on.

The motor bus

However, in response to the automobile, “the analogue” to the car for the mass transportation industry were the gasoline or diesel motor buses. Introduced in the 1920s, the bus was a self-propelled vehicle that operated on highways in mixed traffic. Jumping forward 40 years later, by the 1960s, the bulk of urban mass transportation in the US was carried out by buses. Interesting to note was that the first motorized bus was invented in 1895 by Karl Benz. It was first tested out in France in 1906. Over time, different, specialized forms of buses were created. These ranged from those for city transit, suburban transit, intercity, and buses for schools.

Today, the world of buses has evolved immensely. We see a huge variety on the roads every day with a range of sizes for taking on multiple passengers. The following are just a few examples of bus types you can board and enjoy to take you on your next journey: coach/motor coach, shuttle bus, minibus, mini-coach, double-decker bus, single-decker bus, and a low-floor bus. Each one carries a different number of passengers with a minibus capable of carrying from eight to 16, while a double-decker bus can handle an impressive 60 to 120. The Sprinter bus is another example and it can convey in the region of 15 travelers to their desired destination.

Here at Bus Connection, our fleet consists of Mercedes Sprinters (14 passengers), Executive Mini Bus (24 passengers), Executive Coach Bus (35-39 passengers), and Full Size Motor Coach (56 passengers).

Electric buses

Technological innovations simultaneously focus on sustainability and comfort. Hybrid buses, fuel cell buses, and electric buses are expected to be introduced in numerous US cities in the future. Meanwhile, charter bus services have also come to the fore, taking group transportation convenience to the next level. These are highly popular owing to their flexibility and affordability.

In conclusion

The last 200 years have seen developments in public bus transportation that have grown in leaps and bounds. From horse-drawn omnibuses to the electric buses we have on our roads today, we can only guess what the future will hold in terms of mass public transport. However, one thing that you can always be sure of is the flexibility, convenience, and comfort that we at Bus Connection will always provide. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for any of your transportation needs. Whether you need to travel with a group to a conference in a nearby city or you’re attending a sports game with fans, we’re right here for you every mile of the way.