Tuesday, 24 April 2018

The British Bus (3) : Heyday of the half-cab

As we saw in part 2 of this history of the British bus the changeover from horse to the internal combustion engine was rapid. In the 1930s the bus industry consolidated with many smaller companies swallowed up by a handful of major operators, in London and other cities municipal fleets held sway.

Following the Second World War nationalisation of transport services, which had started in the 1930s with the virtual nationalisation of London transport, was pursued in earnest to try and arrest a gradual decline in public transport in the face of growing car ownership [1]. Large bus companies like Tilling and Scottish Motor Transport were taken over by the British Transport Commission. By the late 1960s nearly all of the bus industry was publicly owned though not without opposition, Midland Red for example tried to fight nationalisation but was overruled by it's parent company [2]. This could not stop the decline in ridership however, in London for example bus passengers fell nearly fifty percent between 1951 and 1967 (mostly switching to the tube not cars).

The post-war period was the heyday of the "halfcab" bus, these had the engine at the front with the driver's cab only extended half-way across the bonnet thus facilitating easier access to the engine. The passenger entrance was usually at the rear with a conductor needed to take fares - though some half-cabs did have doors at the front. The classic halfcab buses included the Leyland Titan, Guy Arab and AEC Regent III, the latter forming the basis of the London RT just one of a series of classic London half-cab buses which were built in the thousands (seven thousand RTs alone [3]). It was in London where the half-cab remained supreme far longer than elsewhere in the country which switched to rear engined buses in the 1960s and 1970s. Indeed the ultimate example of the London half-cab bus, the Routemaster, remained in service in the capital into the early 2000s.

However elsewhere in the country the half-cab bus was being withdrawn in the late 1960s and 1970s, also time for an attempt at greater integration between the various forms of public transport. It was the time of the Passenger Transport Executive.
Former Birmingham City Transport buses, a Guy Arab on the far right

St Helens Corporation Leyland Titan PD2/47

Leyland PDR 1

RML Routemaster

Leyland Tiger FEC and Routemaster RCL

[1] Philip Bagwell & Peter Lyth, Transport in Britain 1750-2000 (Hambledon, 2002) p. 118
[2] Malcolm Keeley, Birmingham Buses Route by Route 1925-1967 (Ian Allan, 2012) p. 11
[3] Kevin McCormack, Twenty-five Years of London Transport 1949-1974 (Ian Allan, 2014) p. 49