Cape Town – The Mother City’s extensive public transport system will leave any Gautenger gobsmacked and not a little envious.
And ubiquitous Golden Arrow buses are very much part of the Cape Town transport scene. Fin24 user Johan Dammert, corporate development manager of Golden Arrow Bus Services, takes us on a trip down memory lane.
Fuel-powered motor buses make their bow
As early as 1902, the first motor buses were tried out but the services couldn’t be sustained for a variety of reasons, particularly the fact that the municipality wouldn’t allow buses to operate in the city.
In August 1911, it was agreed that buses could be operated – albeit for a £12 fee and at a breakneck maximum speed of 10 miles per hour.
And so the Tramway Company acquired its first Leyland buses to transport passengers. They had a fixed roof, five rows of seats, a four-cylinder 55hp engine and could reach 20 miles per hour.
The original intention of the buses was to run to the docks, but the roads were not yet adequately paved.
However, these buses proved successful in transporting people for excursions to Hout Bay, linking up with the Camps Bay line.
For several years, the Tramway Company also owned the Hout Bay Hotel, so the ticket for a return bus trip to Hout Bay included lunch at the hotel – all for the princely sum of seven shillings!
The original Golden Arrow company is born
In the late 1920s, a young man named Sher Pasvolsky arrived in Cape Town from Europe.
Together with Sher’s sons Issy and Max, the Pasvolsky family established what was to become the largest passenger transport company in the country.
The Pasvolskys continued to introduce new routes from the city centre, to Diep River and Crawford. Within just one year, they were operating five buses and employing a staff of over 20.
Top hat-friendly trams
The Cape Tramways Company was established and the first rails were laid in December 1862, near St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Somerset Road.
The passenger cars were designed with doors at each end and stairs to the seats on the roof. The raised ceilings provided ventilation, which thankfully meant no dust and plenty of head room for gentlemen wearing fashionable top hats!
These cars accommodated 40 people sitting inside and 12 standing. Although it was not luxurious travel by any means, it was certainly an improvement on the springless, joyless omnibuses.
The first tram trip took place on a rainy May 1 in 1862. By 1864 these trams carried about 10 000 passengers. Just one year later, the demand had increased to over 120 000 people.
The tramway system was by then an integral part of community life in the Cape.
The post-war years
In 1946, the company completed its first double-deck body in Cape Town and later seven other buses came out of the Toll Gate depot to cope with the increase in demand on the Bellville and Paarden Eiland service.
Expansions were also made into the country areas when the Tramways Company bought out Boland Transport Limited, which had been operating into Stellenbosch.
In 1948, the business of Southern Transports was also acquired, extending the Tramway Company’s operations into the developing southern suburbs of Wynberg, Plumstead and Ottery.
In 1948, more than 15 double-deck buses were added to the fleet and a large new depot was constructed on Klipfontein Road with a capacity for 60 buses and modern workshop facilities.
Mother City at the forefront
In August 1896 the new system was up and running.
It consisted of 10 cars, made in the USA. The new trams consisted of 48 seats with the upper seats protected by canvas curtains.
A shipment of electric tramcars was delivered a year later to keep up with the demand. At Queen Victoria’s jubilee in 1897, there were 32 electric trams on Cape Town’s roads serving the city and suburbs.
The new power station was eventually proving inadequate and the Tramway Company was at the time the city’s largest consumer of electricity.
Cape Town was leading the way for transport in the country; even Johannesburg hadn’t progressed to the use of electric trams at this stage, as the farmers were concerned they would lose income from the sale of forage for the horses.
By the turn of the century, the Tramways Company had 41 cars operating in Cape Town, transporting around 16 million passengers annually.