There’s been a lot of talk this week about Sydney’s buses and the NSW Government’s plans to privatise a section of the network. As historian Garry Wotherspoon points out in his article in the Dictionary of Sydney, Sydney’s bus network has always been a source of debate since the first omnibus service plied the streets in the late 1860s.
Sydney’s first publicly owned form of transport was the Pitt Street tramway. Running from 1861 to 1866, it used horse-drawn trams and operated between Circular Quay and the terminus at Cleveland Paddocks (the present-day area of Regent, Cleveland and Devonshire streets).
The tramway was replaced by Sydney’s first “buses” – a privately owned, horse-drawn omnibus service which remained the city’s main form of public transport until the 1890s. By 1889, about 64 omnibus services were running with 47 of those licensed by the city’s Transit Commissioners.
The steam-powered tram began to overtake the horse-drawn omnibus service after it was first introduced in 1879.
In the early 1900s, the omnibus service was used in areas not served by trams until a new technology took Sydney’s roads by storm in the 1920s.
Private companies exploited the possibilities of motorised vehicles, operating private buses in Sydney to rival the public tramway system. By 1930, 219 bus services carried millions of Sydneysiders across the city each year.
In the 1932, the NSW Government’s Department of Road Transport and Tramways was established and the issue of private and public ownership came to the fore. In the end, despite Sydney’s tram network being one of the most sophisticated in the world, it was gradually replaced by an expanding rail and bus network. The last tram ran in 1961.
Today Sydney’s buses continue to inspire debates around urban planning, maintenance costs, carbon emissions and public and private ownership, just as they did during the 1930s and 1950s. What does the future hold for Sydney’s public transport network?
You can read more about Sydney’s buses and other forms of transport on the Dictionary.
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