A history of bus services in Jersey

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First published in Jersey Topic magazine in 1966

The first motorbus service was inaugurated in Jersey in October 1909, when the Channels Islands Motor Company of Don Street placed a covered charabanc on the run from St Helier's Weighbridge to St Aubin. The service lasted at least a month, by which time the, by then, two buses had had their share of mechanical troubles and their passengers had gradually returned to the railway. The novelty had worn off.

However, there was obviously a need for such a service, for on the first day of 1910, Omnials Limited placed into service an open-topped double-decker on the same run. This operated for a brief period before being laid up at Bel Royal. It re-entered service in May 1910, under different ownership, and struggled on until October, when for mechanical reasons, it ceased work.

It must not be assumed that this left Jersey busless, or indeed that the Island had been busless before the appearance of the motorbuses. J Murphy had, for many years, been running his Jersey Central Omnibus to the northern parishes, and he was quite unaffected by the St Aubin's Road juggernauts.

A bus on the Snow Hill turntable in 1949

War services

After these three unsuccessful attempts to beat the railway, the motor merely began to replace the excursion cars, and did good trade until the advent of the Great War. Then, with no tourists to cater for, such charabancs were used only to transport the garrisoned troops.

Possibly the richest month of the war years for motor operators was March 1915, when Islanders took advantage of special tours, arranged to see the prisoner-of-war camp, then being constructed at Blanches Banques.

Even with the petrol shortage, another attempt at bus operation was made in June 1918, when the Channel Islands Motor and General Engineering Company, of Bath Street, placed a bus in service, running all over the Island, on different routes on different days, and having a lady conductress.

The service was far too ambitious for such lean years and later in the same month the whole undertaking was abandoned when the States withdrew the necessary petrol licence.

Despite a petition, got up in July, and signed by about 600 people, the services did not restart until after the Armistice, in November. From all accounts the company did well. Well enough for a new company, the St Aubin’s Motor Coach and Car Company, to take over the Bath Street concern in February 1920.

In time, the new owners started to economise, and before very long the buses were running on Wednesdays and Saturdays and it was to remedy this state of affairs that Major Butterworth began running in May 1921 the first of a line of buses destined to become known as Orange Boxes, so named from their colour and construction.

These buses, the 'Jersey Buses', ran from Snow Hill to various places including Gorey and the northern parishes.

More operators

In a very short time other operators, a number of them owning just the one bus, appeared on the scene. W Shaw, of the Excelsior Stables in La Motte Street, placed a new Fiat motorbus in service in March 1922, running to L'Etacq; the Tourist Bus Company, running to Trinity, Ahier's Ville de Paris to St Mary from Val Plaisant, all started running at this time.

On Easter Monday 1923 the first buses of the new Jersey Motor Transport Company entered service. This company made a considerable impact on the local scene, supported, as it was, by two similar companies in the West of England, and very soon there were services running all over the Island.

It did not take too long for the railway company to realise that this was serious competition, so they, too, purchased some buses - French Saurers - and started services of their own. Sad to relate, the Jersey Railways and Tramways Company did not operate their buses at all well, and the mishaps which repeatedly happened to them made the railway lose many potential passengers.

On the other hand, the buses of the JMT were so well run and maintained that inevitably, in August 1928, the JR and T bought them out to eliminate the competition. The fact that the new owners retained the old JMT colours demonstrates the goodwill which the English company had built up, but this did not prevent the poor maintenance of the railway company from spreading to the JMT buses, with disastrous results.

Meanwhile, smaller operators continued to thrive. New names appeared —Favourite, Slade, Star, Opal, Batchelor's, Rondel's, and even the Jersey Eastern Railway bought out Mr Thullier's small fleet of buses in order to fight back at the sundry operators who were taking all the trade from the railway.

An early JMT bus

Licences withdrawn

The Jersey Buses had their licences withdrawn for a short time, as the Constable of St Helier considered that they were a public danger. Towards the end of this operator's history, coals, motor oil and general haulage were included in the range of his services. The pioneer St Aubin's Company, had withdrawn the last of the bus services in 1925 to concentrate upon coaching work.

In December 1927 the first bus of a new company appeared in service for the first time. Painted in a red, white and blue scheme, and soon followed by others, the Red Band buses soon became very popular due to their good timetables and penny stages, the latter being something new for Jersey.

As more 'buses entered service, the blue was dropped front the colour scheme and more emphasis was placed on the use of the initials SCS, standing for Safety Coach Service, although to this day it is still known as the Red Band.

With such a large number of independent bus operators plying for hire along the new money-spinning routes, the question of passengers' safety was ignored. The States and parishes had shown only a passing interest. But a major accident to a defective bus in 1931 brought the whole problem into the open.

On 27 June 1931 a JMT bus ran out of control down Mont Felard and crashed into Benest's Stores at the bottom of the hill. Three passengers died and others were badly injured. The bus, it was revealed at the inquest, was in a shocking condition. The two inside rear wheels had been removed for distribution to other buses and, when it was being tested on St Brelade's Bay Hill after the accident, with the footbrake completely depressed and two hands pulling the handbrake, an assistant having to steer the bus, the vehicle continued to roll gently on and could not be brought to a standstill.

The manager of the railway resigned and his place was taken by Major F H Blakeway, who had the whole fleet put in good order. More buses were bought, and among them were the first covered-top double-decked buses in Jersey.

Stricter checks

Parish mechanical checks became much stricter. but the accident had little effect on the general running of the various companies. On the contrary, while the States chewed over the traffic question. the chasing and racing between the JMT and the SCS grew worse. G La Cloche, the newly appointed Parish Inspector, had several times mediated between the two sides, hut it was not until 1934, after a few years negotiation, that the Island's bus routes were divided between the main operators, the SCS taking the east ofo the island and the JMT all routes to the west of Queen’s Road.

A few days later Tantivy became party to the agreement, thus preserving their St John's routes. This enabled the companies to settle down and give a better and safer service, but fares went up.

The Eastern Railway closed down in 1929, most of its property remaining remaining derelict while the assets were distributed, ad it was therefore not until 1935 that ‘Pneumonia Avenue, more properly known as Snowhill Bus Station, was opened. This helped to clear the streets a little, for until then many SCS routes started from Library Plae.

On 15 January 1936, the Motor Traffic (Jersey) Law 1935 came into force, and with it a rigid system of licences for both routes and vehicles, insistence on proper timetables and well maintained buses, which conditions were to be supervised by a newly formed Motor Traffic Office, the first Chief Officer of which was G La Cloche.

From then on, the policies of the various licensed operators were of gradual expansion and betterment of existing facilities.

With the outbreak of war, the winter service was brought forward by one month, and in October a drastically reduced emergency service came into operation. To begin with there were no buses after 9.30 in the evening, but late cinema buses were restored after many complaints.

A horse-drawn town bus

Occupation

Apart from Joe's Bus Service, which ceased in June 1940, all other services were unaffected by the arrival of the Germans in Jersey on 1 July. Sunday services were voluntarily withdrawn by all operators, and the JMT even went as far as constructing a horse bus to save petrol, although it did not run for long.

Co-operation between the two Island Authorities made it possible for a French firm to supply gas-producing machines, which were fitted to the backs of several single-decked buses. Some of these machines were dependent upon charcoal and others upon anthracite, and after initial imports of charcoal from the Continent, the bulk of the bus fuel was loaded at the local gasworks.

In 1941 the rule of the road was changed from the left to the right. The authorities found themselves obliged to ignore the gross overloading of the few vehicles still on the road, it being not at all unusual for a double-decker to carry well over 100 passengers in the ‘rush hour’.

When supplies of petroleum spirit became really scarce, all remaining petrol buses and all double-deckers were withdrawn, the same thing happening to the solid-fuel buses at the end of 1944, although a Saturday-only service was maintained until February 1945, after which time no civilian service, ran.

During the Occupation of the Island, buses which were not needed were stored away. Some of these were later broken up by Germans for the Axis Powers scrap campaign. Others were requisitioned by the local garrison for troop movements, such as sharp shooting band-shows and the like, while more were shipped away for use in other places.

It was a couple of days after Liberation Day before even the simplest service could commence. Even though mechanics had, for several months previously, been busy converting the gas buses, petrol was in too short supply. Gradually, however, services were built up and the JMT wasted no time in resuming its pre-war policy of expansion.

A promenade 'toast rack' bus in 1948

Takeovers

In May 1946 Slade's services were taken over, followed in November of the same year by those of the SCS, whose manager, Mr A G Webley, had died and for whom a replacement could not be readily found. The St John services of Tantivy were taken over in March 1949.

Meanwhile, a new operator had appeared. The Boulevard Transport Service started 1948, running along the sea-front from West Park to Bel Royal. The business was taken over in 1958 and renamed the Promenade Bus Service, before it was absorbed into the JMT in 1960, the same year as the absorrtion of Joe's Bus Service, leaving the JMT as the sole omnibus operator in the Island.

Anxious to effect economies, the JMT proposed drastic changes in the 1962/3 service, which led the States to order an enquiry into the future of the island's bus services.

The resulting MacKenzie report made several recommendations, and, acting upon these the JMT have introduced several improvements. The closure of Snow Hill Station, subsequent centralisation, with the sweeping, but unsuccessful attempt to remove the Weighbridge Gardens, and the formation of a now coach company are but a few of the changes visible to the public.

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