Reading a blogpost about buses a few minutes ago got me thinking about my own experiences with bus travel as a child.
Our family did not own a car, and living in Mayfair (Johannesburg), we were very fortunate that we had a variety of buses to choose from when we made an excursion “into town”. Originally we lived in Robinson Road and would catch the Homestead Park bus, but once we moved to Hanover Street our local bus stop was shared by buses on the Homestead Park, Crosby, Langlaagte and Mayfair routes which all turned around at the terminus in Loveday Street. (Bus numbers were 60, 60a, 61 and possibly 61a). Trolley bus lines ran up to Homestead Park where the bus turned around for its return journey, I seem to recall the terminus was in Van Ryneveld Road.
In primary school I used to catch the Crosby bus up to EP Baumann Primary, getting off a block away from the school in 3rd Avenue. My early trips were on platform style JMT diesel buses with a conductor ensuring that the correct fares were paid and that we behaved ourselves.
I do not recall when the platform style buses were removed from service but at some point the conductor was made redundant by a ticketing machine by the driver, and he also handled cash for people who did not have tickets.
The original platform style buses had the driver in a separate compartment, but single deckers and the newer double deckers had the driver accessible to passengers, and when you travelled the same bus everyday we all got to know the individual drivers on our routes, and eventually we would gravitate to sitting on the ledge by the front window next to the driver. I do recall the one driver that I travelled with went on pension in my last year in primary school and I was quite sad that I would no longer see him on the route.
My morning trips were usually in a very empty bus, but in the afternoons the Crosby bus would be full of the children from EP Baumann as well as other schools in the area. I used to bail out at the stop in Central Ave between Hanover and Langerman Streets, stopping at the Greek cafe to buy the afternoon paper for my mother before heading off for home. This was the same bus stop we would use to travel into town, the west bound stop being close to the corner of Hanover Street and Central Ave. The bus terminus in Johannesburg was in Loveday Street, between Commissioner and Market Streets. None of our west bound buses used Van Der Bijl Square (today Ghandi Square) as a terminus. The terminus was also next to the Union-Castle Building where I could ogle the ship models in the window while waiting for the bus to take me home. Today the terminus is still there, but is used as a taxi rank. Union-Castle Line is long gone and so are the ship models. And, for that matter, so are the buses.
Once I went to high school in Langlaagte, my daily commute changed slightly. I would now catch a dedicated Langlaagte school bus that would turn around outside our school, and in the afternoons there was a dedicated school bus that used to collect us at 14H05 and drive into town on the Homestead Park route. If you missed it the next Langlaagte bus would leave an hour later and it was usually easier to walk up to the Homestead Park terminus instead.
The buses on this route were converted from the platform diesel buses, the platform being removed and replaced with a bench seat with the access stairs behind the driver. There was an unofficial pecking order on these buses. The smokers sat upstairs, the more senior the boys the further back they sat. Non smokers sat downstairs and the seniors would occupy the bench seat at the back. Our school was a single sexed school so no girls were on the bus (Goudveld Hoërskool up the road had their own bus). Unfortunately I do not have a picture of the inside of these diesel buses, but they were very similar to the converted trolley buses that had their platforms removed.
By Std 10 I too had graduated to the back bench, and some other Std 6 had to fight the gauntlet of bigger boys trying to board without getting squashed. The ticket machine had changed too, as tickets now had 10 rides per ticket instead of a single ticket per ride.
Johannesburg also started to use buses for advertising when I was in primary school, and we were always eager to travel on a bus that had something new advertised on it, sadly though it meant the demise of the familiar red and cream livery, which leant a certain professionalism to the bus service. The much loved trolley bus was also withdrawn, and an articulated singled decker trolley bus was tried but it was never adopted throughout the fleet. Eventually even the trolley bus lines were removed, and they too have passed into history. By the time I came out of the army my transportation had moved to trains as I worked in Braamfontein and Johannesburg, and apart from the occasional trip from where I lived in Hillbrow I stopped using buses altogether. I know when I was young the ever rising fares meant fewer people used buses so they they had to raise fares to increase revenue and it became a spiral that saw the bus service cut until it was shade of its former self. Today the Metrobus service is abysmal.
I have traveled in buses elsewhere in the world but they don’t really compare to the childhood experience of going to school in a big red and cream diesel bus, safe in the hands of an experienced driver. I miss the experience though, especially hurtling down the hill in Fordsburg in a trolley bus, secretly hoping that the pickup would jump off the lines, bringing us to a grinding halt. It was all part of the fun when growing up. The James Hall Museum of Transport has a beautiful collection of old buses and trams to explore, and is well worth visiting to see them once again. All the photographs in this blog entry were taken at the museum.
The buses below were all photographed between 2007 and 2012 and are indicative of what I saw in that period. With the exception of the Pretoria and Gautrain bus all images were taken in Johannesburg.