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Home RUNNING JOURNAL Reflections Cover Photo : Mal Rowe

In the recent State Government budget $6.5 million was allocated to the debt ridden tramways but for years tramways legislation was punitive instead of providing assistance for public transport. Competition with private bus operators in the 1920's also took its toll on tramway finances.

All students of transport will be aware of the U.K. act of 1870, The Tramways Act, that not only affected the U.K. but was copied in other parts of the world too. This was drafted in horse tram days when it was felt that the horse tram operators should not only maintain the tracks but also 18 inches on either side of them. The horses hooves were supposed to be wearing away the road between the tracks so they should pay for it. These acts carried on well into the electric era and have only recently ceased in Melbourne. Not only was the centre of the road maintained but also rates paid to the respective councils too.

While many undertakings were burdened with the 1870 Act few could have an act so loaded against them as the Tramways own act which incorporated the 1820 act and added a few interesting sections of its own too. Look at Section 88.

The Board, under this section had to provide to the Consolidated Revenue of the State of Victoria in each year a sum equal to the amount disimbursed by the State Treasurer in connection with the Queen's Memorial Infectious Diseases Hospital, The Metropolitan Fire Brigade, and the Municipalities pursuant to the Licensing Act of 1916. The payments varied from year to year with the first payment in 1920 of £56,783. This carried on up to the 1st October 1954 by which time the sum of £4,281,189 had been paid, in effect a tax upon the users of public transport. The remark in the Board's Annual Report of 1955 is a masterpiece of understatement; "The Board records with pleasure that by Act No. 5814 of 1953 the Board is relieved of these payments from 1st October 1954". These payments had carried on even during the Depression years when men had to be laid off work in an attempt to make ends meet, and the Board had to borrow money. In effect it involved giving the Government money with one hand and the borrowing of money at interest with the other, so that by 1954 the Board's debts consisted of £5,083,202. It was further calculated by the Board that if the same interest rated had been charged on the money paid to the worthy causes the total would have totalled £9 million, quite a sum.

The act also contains interesting sections affecting such things as provision for depreciation, or rather the lack of it. In all it is interesting to speculate what the position of the Board would be now had the acts been drafted in a fairer manner.

Another bone of contention in the formative years of the Board was the competition between the Board and the private operators that were entering business at this time. Two factors caused this, the major one being the end of the first world war in 1918 and the second which gave them a helping hand was the Tramways strike in 1924. As it turned out, the man who was centre of the strike mislead the Union according to the press and the strike did a considerable amount of harm.

Men during the war acquired new skills, including the ability to drive and service motor vehicles so with their gratuities they put this skill to good use be purchasing a lorry or a bus and pitting it on the road in competition with the established operators. In most cases these men lacked any financial skill or business knowledge.

To put a bus on the road was a simple business. The intending operator simply applied to the Hackney Carriage Committee of the council for a licence. This cost 5/0 per seat with a maximum of £3 a year, 5/0 each for the driver and conductor's licenses and 1/0 for the owner. So to put a 33 seater bus, with a capacity of 33, he paid £3.11.0, less than 2/2d. a seat, and was allowed to operate without further hindrance.

The Tramways Board on the other hand who wished to operate buses under its Act, had to arrange with the Council concerned to strengthen and improve the road and pay its share of the cost. Therefore, whether it be tram or bus the Board was caught for the road costs. On the other hand it was the private operators, both bus and lorry, with their solid tires that wrecked havoc with the road surface. It was the road costs caused by these operators and the fact that it was realised that the Tramways had paid enough that was in the Board's favour during the forthcoming confrontation.

The private operators at the outset had a good press image, after all they were ex-servicemen. There were many pictures of them in uniforms with medals glistening on their chests, as they got ready to do battle with their next foes, the established operators. Good romantic stuff! The most outstanding of these men was a Mr. Knight, the owner of Kintrak buses. It was he who eventually became the spokesman for the private operators with the result that a lot of the press cuttings quote either his statements or those of the Board's Chairman, at the time Mr. Cameron, both tough men.

Typical of the press comment of the day is this one stating how the Toorak service had improved since the private operator had taken over that service during the tram strike that lasted from 5th May to 19th May 1924 with disastrous results for the industry. "The sleepy old cable tram charges 3d. from the terminus to the city, and occupies 32 minutes on the run. the bus charges 6d. and takes 17 minutes. The bus service is made up of one real bus and a number of chilly charabancs. But the buses are crowded and the trams relatively deserted except for an hour or so in the evening. And so even with electric trams on this route the buses would still put it over the Tramways Board".

Someone was putting it over the Tramways Board as the figures show:

In June 1924 there were 31 services operating in the Metropolitan area ranging from many one man owned and operated services to the Kintrak bus company, which at that time operated 14 buses. Services ran as far afield as Broadmeadows, Oakleigh, Balwyn and Geelong. The names were good too, Trak, Kintrak, Blue Check, Auto, and a host of others now faded into the pages of history.

It was not only the Tramways that had trouble, the Victorian Railways also had their share as they were busy spending money electrifying the suburban railway system. A cutting is typical of the period. "In May 1924 a service was introduced from Belgrave to Melbourne leaving Belgrave at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. It leaves Flinders Street at 1 p.m. and 5.30 p.m. A fare of 3/0 was charged for the hour and a quarter journey and was 7d. cheaper that the trip to Ferntree Gully. The service was operated by a Reo bus, 16 seater, and was to be followed by two more". It was obvious that something had to be done. The arguments by both sides were fierce and the merits of even wasting money of electrifying the cable system was hotly debated in the press. Figures were quoted showing the losses on the U.K. tramways of the period. What is not said of course is that the U.K. operators were also having trouble with "The Pirates" who took their passengers when it suited them. In fact the U.K. did not act until 1933.

The lobbying was fierce, firstly on council level and later to State Government level. The councils were concerned about the state of their roads and the fact that they were getting no compensation. It was felt that the Tramways more than paid their share and the press in those days even wanted the hospital payments stopped, but to no avail. Regulations had to come, after all there were 3 bus companies operating in competition with the cable trams in St. Kilda Road alone.

The Tramways entered the act too by putting a bus service onto the road on 3rd January 1925 in competition with the Trak bus route No. 6, Melbourne-Elsternwick. There are pictures of lively scenes at Elsternwick as the operators fought for business.

After a lot of debate the Motor Bus Act came into force on 1st February 1925 amid cries of anguish from the vanquished and chuckles from the victors. It was stated that the then Premier, Mr. Goudie, represented a country area and was not interested in the city dweller who was most involved with the problem. It was left to the Attorney General, Mr. Eggleston, a member for St. Kilda, and an area affected by the Act, to defend the State Government's actions against the critics including the vocal Mr. Knight. There was a lively meeting at Cauilfield Town Hall with 1500 people there; the age of apathy was not with them then.

Mr. Knight fought to the end after many lively meeting and his conductresses handed out leaflets. He closed his services down on 31st January 1925 despite the comments by Mr. Eggleston that he was over reacting.

The Act fixed the dimensions of the buses which should not exceed 28' in length, 8' in width, 5 tons unladen weight or 8 tons laden. It did not apply to buses taking less than 12 passengers and this led to speculations as to whether the city would be flooded with mini-buses to get around the regulations. There were also provisions for insurance and the use of solid tyres.

The routes themselves were fixed by the Motor Bus Advisory Board and in the "Age" of 12th February 1925 there appears two interesting maps. One shows the route pattern before the Act with 68 routes and afterwards with 50 new routes with the claim by the Authorities that the buses were not driven off the road by had been relocated giving the public better service. Strangely after this the issue seems to have died a natural death as the new services settled down. More new transport topics dominated the press and these will follow in later articles.

I wish to extend my thanks to Bob Prentice for his assistance in providing material for the article and also the late Arnold Newton of the Tramways Board.

Material sources: Press cuttings and M.&M.T.B. Annual Reports.


Passengers carried

Passengers carried

June 1922

June 1924

Brighton Rd






Clifton Hill



Acts & Antics D. Menzies - Volume 9, Number 6 December 1972

A selection of Trak and Kintrak tickets.

A Kintrak omnibus pauses at an M.&M.T.B. tramstop before government regulation restricted pirate activity.

Luna Park opened in December 1911, and has been a popular destination for merrymakers on public transport in the district ever since.