On the 19th July 1913, Birmingham
Corporation exercised its limited powers under the Birmingham Corporation Act of
1903 (which provided for the running of omnibuses only during the construction
or repair of, or as an extension to, a tramway route) to operate motorbuses as
an extension to the tramway system. The first buses, open-top Daimler B types,
were placed in service as an extension of the Bristol Road tramway, between
Selly Oak and Rednal. They were garaged at Dawlish Road depot. By the end of the
year, two more routes had been opened; Five Ways to the General Hospital and a
tramway extension route between Selly Oak and Rubery.
General powers to operate omnibuses in the city
were authorised by the Birmingham Corporation Act of 1914, however, at this
time, the Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company was already operating
motorbuses to destinations within the city, which conflicted with the
Corporation's plans to consolidate services within the city boundary.
Consequently, in February 1914, the Company and the Corporation signed an
agreement, which permitted the Company to operate services into the city from
places outside the city boundaries, subject to protective fares being charged.
As a result, the leasehold on the BMMO's Tennant Street garage (plus 30
vehicles) was transferred to Birmingham Corporation.
With the onset of the First World War in 1914,
Birmingham Corporation's first ten bus chassis were commandeered by the War
Department, the bodies being removed and stored until 1915 when replacement
vehicles, in the form of 10 Tilling-Stevens TS3's, received them. In 1916 the
Corporation received a batch of 18 Daimler Y types, but before they could all
enter service, the War Department again commandeered six of the chassis. They
were replaced by six Tilling-Stevens TS3's, which received the bodies from some
of the ex-BMMO vehicles that were in the process of withdrawal.
By 1922, although no further purchases of
omnibuses were made in the interim period, Birmingham Corporation was keen to
expand the network of services. However, the Public Works Committee objected to
the new omnibuses on the grounds that the solid tyres damaged the roads. As a
result the Corporation agreed that all new omnibuses should be fitted with
pneumatic tyres. In 1923, fourteen AEC 503 open-top vehicles and nine Daimler
CK2 single-deckers were received. The Corporation also adopted the policy of
specifying top-covers for all double-deck buses after the success of top-covered
trolleybuses the previous year, thus pioneering the fully enclosed
double-decker. What is claimed to be the first top-covered double-deck omnibus
to operate anywhere in the UK entered service on the 24th July 1924.
Numbered 101, it was designed by Alfred Baker, the Birmingham Corporation
General Manager, based on an AEC 504 chassis.
Most of the buses were still being garaged in the
tramway depots and the Corporation felt it was time for a purpose built depot to
be constructed. For a time, the former tram depot at Birchfield Road was used as
a temporary bus garage until on the 10th June 1925, Barford Street
omnibus garage opened; on 12th October 1926 Harborne garage opened,
with accommodation for up to 100 vehicles. The Tramways Committee, with much
foresight, had already made plans for further extensions to the bus system and
was consequently making preparations for the erection of more bus garages. In
1927 land was purchased on Tyburn Road for the erection of an omnibus overhaul
and repair workshop. In 1928, Acocks Green bus garage, with accommodation for 50
more vehicles, was opened and in 1932 Perry Barr garage, with a capacity of 120,
was opened. At the same time, the growing number of omnibuses in the fleet
prompted the Corporation to change the name of the undertaking to Birmingham
Corporation Tramways and Omnibus Department, finally becoming Birmingham City
Transport on the 9th November 1937.
Following trials of vehicles supplied by many of
the major bus manufacturers between 1930 and 1933, the Corporation chose the
Daimler chassis as the basis of its fleet for the next few years and, as a
result, over 800 Daimler chassis were purchased before the outbreak of war in
1940. During the war years the supply of new buses was sparse and only 149
vehicles were allocated to Birmingham by the War Department. Birmingham was the
target for many air raids and, despite dispersing vehicles by parking out
overnight, enemy action resulted in considerable damage and twenty buses were
completely destroyed. There was also considerable interchanging of bodies during
this period in order to make good the damage and keep the services running. Fuel
was rationed, necessitating cuts to bus services, some of which were never
restored. Much of the workforce was called up and during the course of the war
the Department recruited over 7,000 women workers to keep the wheels turning.
When peace was declared in 1945 Birmingham
Corporation was faced with many problems, not least the fact that not all the
former personnel would be returning to work, leading to a severe staff shortage.
Despite this, however, Birmingham Corporation continued to implement service
revisions, including, in 1946, all-night buses. By March 1948 the bus fleet
stood at 1,262 vehicles.
Over the next few years the introduction of
shorter working hours and the resulting increase in operational costs mean that
annual fare increases become the norm, and an annual operating deficiency was a
regular occurrence. This also resulted in the appearance of advertisements on
Birmingham's buses, up until then resisted as being undesirable.
In February 1950 the first of a 100 new Crossley
vehicles entered service sporting the new design of Birmingham front, which the
Transport Department had been working on since the previous year. It represented
a radical rethink of the design of the front end of the bus, with the radiator
being totally enclosed behind a grille. At the same time the destination
indicator and route number box were given more prominence. This was to give
Birmingham's fleet a distinctive look over the next decade or so.
Throughout the 1950's Birmingham, like so many
other operators at the time, suffered a gradual decline in passenger traffic.
The Transport Committee identified a number of factors, including the rise in
popularity of the motor car, the extension of the five-day working week and the
effects of television on the leisure-time activities of the public. The bus
fleet, which had steadily risen since bus services were first introduced, peaked
at around 1800 vehicles. There was also a considerable staff shortage during
this period, often resulting in hundreds of journeys a day being withdrawn,
which did nothing to promote passenger confidence. Between 1955 and 1960 no new
buses were acquired, except a solitary AEC Bridgemaster in 1957. By 1960 it was
apparent that the future lay in high capacity vehicles and a number of vehicles
underwent trials with Birmingham Corporation. In 1961 10 Leyland PDR1/1
Atlanteans were delivered and in 1962 10 Daimler CRG6 Fleetlines arrived. In the
event the preferred vehicle was the Daimler Fleetline and an order for 100
CRG6's was placed in 1963, the vehicles being delivered later that year. A
further 100 Fleetlines were ordered in 1964, with 100 more ordered in 1965. The
fleet, however, was in decline and now numbered just under 1700 vehicles and the
problem of acute staff shortages continued.
The development of a large housing estate at
Aldridge, just outside the city boundary, led to an agreement in 1965 with
Harper Brothers, of Heath Hayes which resulted in the private company being
licensed to run into the city centre. Walsall Corporation also commenced through
services to the city centre at the same time.
By 1966, concern was voiced over the continued
loss of passenger traffic. The number of buses ordered reflected this, just 76
(reduced from an initial order of 100) more Fleetlines, however, in 1967 another
100 Fleetlines were ordered. Despite these problems, the Department was making
an operating surplus by the time it was absorbed into the West Midlands PTE.
On 3rd April 1967 a peak hour express service was inaugurated between
Navigation Street and Rubery using 12 new Strachan-bodied Ford R192 chassis.
These vehicles were one-man-operated and were the precursors of the wholesale
conversion to one-man-operation. In June 1967, one-man-operated double-deckers
were introduced on certain routes on Sundays and in July 1967 the Lodge Road
route was converted wholly to one-man-operation, making Birmingham the first
city in the country to introduce one-man-operated double-deck buses on ordinary
stage carriage services.
A further 100 Daimler Fleetlines were ordered for
delivery in 1969, the year in which the 1968 Transport Act authorised the
formation of the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive and, accordingly,
on the 1st October 1969, the control of Birmingham Corporation
Transport Department, along with all its assets, came under the control of the
PTE, thus ending 56 years of municipal bus operations in the city, and almost
100 years of Birmingham Corporation involvement in local transport.
In producing this history reference has been made to the
Birmingham Corporation Transport 1904-1939 and
Birmingham Corporation Transport 1939-1969 (Paul Collins, Ian Allan 1999); PSV
Circle Fleet Histories PD9C and PD10C.