1885 - Tram shelter
Whether by horse-drawn omnibus, tram or the later motor bus, public transport by road offered even more convenience than railways in giving people mobility between home, workplace and social activities. While roads have made an obvious impact on the landscape, public transport itself leaves few marks, but among the more visible structures is the humble roadside shelter for waiting passengers. Unlike this picturesque survivor from steam tram days - still used today -modern examples tend to be strictly utilitarian, their designers being as concerned with making them vandal-proof as with the comfort of waiting passengers. Other relics of earlier days are still found - stables, odd lengths of tramway inset into the roadway, or the ornate standards that once supported the overhead power supply for trams or trolley buses, now converted to carry street lighting. Many bus depots or garages, too, are simply former tram sheds with the tracks removed. In terms of the service it provides, how has public transport changed over the years?
Very few long-distance stage coaches survived the 'Railway Mania' of the 1840s although, almost incredibly, one did continue to operate from Fort William until 1915. Many 'short stage' links still served neighbouring towns and villages, however, and horse omnibuses would ply for hire along busy routes in the larger towns and cities. Often there were rivals on the same route, and this is still a major problem in the private operation of public transport — owners want a slice of the profits from more lucrative routes, but too much competition can lead both to saturation and to the neglect of less profitable services. After horse buses came horse trams operating along 'street railways' with tracks inset into the roadway. By the Edwardian era, progressive operators had adopted the electric tram to provide a network of local services and, in many cases, to act as a 'feeder' for railway stations - an early instance of the planned integration of road and rail traffic. But once the motor bus had proved itself reliable and efficient, the days of the tram were numbered. They were slower, they disrupted traffic, they needed costly electrical equipment along the route, and they could obviously run only where there were tram tracks (a similar problem bedevilled the trolley bus). Many municipal tramways were converted to buses in the inter-war period, and only a handful of the big city networks continued to run into the 1950s. The motor bus, by then universally accepted, offered much greater flexibility in operation. In various forms it became the dominant mode of public transport on our roads. Though the vehicles (and fares) have altered out of all recognition, the actual service routes may have changed little in over a century or more of operation. They serve the same districts, they stop in the same places, sometimes they even carry the same route number. Journey times, however, may not always have improved to a significant extent!
|1875 - Signal Box|