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Monday, Dec 05, 2022

Explained: How the double-decker bus came and went in Indian cities

India’s first electric double-decker bus was launched in Mumbai by the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) on Thursday (August 18), marking the latest in the history of the iconic public transport vehicle that came to India about a century ago.

Double-decker buses were seen on the streets of many major Indian cities, but they eventually lost their shine.

Written by Suman Pal

India’s first electric double-decker bus was launched in Mumbai by the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) on Thursday (August 18), marking the latest in the history of the iconic public transport vehicle that came to India about a century ago.

Double-decker buses, some of which were painted red to resemble the kind that dots the landscape of London, were seen on the streets of many major Indian cities, but they eventually lost their shine. With their new avatar in Mumbai, we explain how the buses drove in and were eventually phased out in Kolkata, Vadodara and Ahmedabad.

Kolkata’s double-decker buses

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The hundred-year history of Kolkata’s double-decker buses can be traced back to 1922, when the motorbus, manufactured by Walford & Company, was first introduced to the city by the Calcutta Tramways Company.

In 1926, Walford & Company would go on to launch Kolkata’s first double-decker bus. Its registered number was M.B 42 and it initially carried 56 passengers, according to the historian Siddhartha Ghosh, in his book ‘Koler Shohor Kolkata’ (1959). The original route connected Shyambazar locality in the north, to Kalighat in the south.

Walford & Company made Kolkata’s first double-decker bus completely in imitation of London’s double-decker bus. It had large drop shutter windows to keep the bus well ventilated and the entire structure of the bus was made of wood to keep the passengers comfortable in Kolkata’s hot and humid summers. The outer body of the double-decker bus was wrapped in metal sheets.

Originally, the double-decker buses had no roof to cover the first floor. Gradually the appearance of this bus was modified and the height of the bus and structure of the stairs changed. An innovation, called ‘Trailer buses’, which had an extra floor between the two floors began to traverse the streets of Kolkata.

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By the 1990s the Left government decided to phase out double-decker buses citing traffic jams, until they were completely removed from the city in 2005. But in 2018, the then transport minister, Suvendu Adhikari, announced the decision to revive double-decker buses. Apparently, the decision was made after the state transport secretary visited London that year and was enthralled by the double decker buses plying London roads.

The scheme would come into fruition on 13 October 2010, when West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee inaugurated two 51-seat double-decker BS-4 category buses from Navanna, which would be managed by the West Bengal Transport Corporation. In 2021, for the occasion of Christmas and New Year, the two air-conditioned buses were exhibited for the public at Park Street.

Double-decker buses in Vadodara and Ahmedabad

The cities of Ahmedabad and Vadodara ran red double decker buses till about 30 years ago. The buses in Vadodara were of the trailer type where the driver cabin was a separate body hinged to the double-storey passenger carriage to help navigate the narrow city roads. The double decker service originated from the congested Mandvi terminus in Old Baroda. The bus service in Vadodara was then run by the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation (GSRTC)

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In 2012, a private operator Vallabhipur Transport Co-operative Society (VTCOS) relaunched the service in Vadodara on two routes with a single body double decker bus, 22 years after the double decker buses were scrapped, but the service could not be sustained. These buses could carry 78 passengers at a time.

Ahmedabad Municipal Transport Service (AMTS) under the municipal corporation, ran the double decker service in Ahmedabad which was “scrapped some 30 years back”, said an AMTS official.

–With ENS Ahmedabad

First published on: 20-08-2022 at 05:55:46 pm
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