Following their initial inception, buses took some time to catch on as a serious mode of transport.
Blaise Pascal, yes, the French Philosopher, invented the first public transit system in Paris in 1662. His system made use of horse drawn buses, that followed a set schedule, along published routes and charged a standardized fare based on distance traveled.
Though initially popular, the service lasted for only 15 years before it ceased to operate. This was due to an increase in ticket price which restricted usage to members of high society.
There then followed a huge gap in the history of the bus. There are no records of any other bus services like Pascal’s until the early 19th century, when horse-drawn buses began to appear once more. The ‘Omnibus’ arrived in Bordeaux, France in 1812 and soon after in Paris, New York and London. In these early days, it was common for passengers to also ride on the roof as well as within, with the buses appearing like a hybrid between a carriage and a stagecoach.
The name ‘bus’ is derived from the Latin word ‘Omnibus’ (meaning “for all”). A hatter’s shop which bore the name “Omnes Omnibus” was in close vicinity to the first bus station in Nante, France. Users of the bus quickly adopted the name of Omnibus, which has been shortened over time to ‘bus’.
In the 1830s, steam powered buses were known to be in operation and around the same time, electric trolley buses were developed. The latter buses were powered by overhead cables and in many areas preceded the conventional engine bus (London being one such example) and eventually served as the model for the trolley – a vehicle designed to carry large numbers of passengers powered by electricity that came to the vehicle via a ‘trolley’ or link to an overhead wire.
The first buses powered by internal combustion engines were developed in tandem with the motorcar. Following the first engine powered bus in 1895, the design and functionality developed over the next half century, resulting in the contemporary buses we recognize today.
Electric powered operations moved in three directions: the trolley car on fixed rails, the trolley bus – rubber-tired but tethered to an overhead power line and the ‘third rail’ electric car running on elevated rail lines or underground in tunnels which became known as ‘subways.’ It is worth noting that the day the subway opened in 1904 in New York City, the cars were jammed and it doesn’t appear that there has been any reduction in demand since!
Rubber-tired buses remain the main form of public transportation conveyance all over the world today and probably will for the foreseeable future. If Pascal could have seen into the future, he would be pleased. And amazed.