On the 19th July 1913, Birmingham Corporation exercised its limited powers under the Birmingham Corporation Act of 1903 (which provided for the running of omnibuses only during the construction or repair of, or as an extension to, a tramway route) to operate motorbuses as an extension to the tramway system.
The first buses, open-top Daimler B types, were placed in service as an extension of the Bristol Road tramway, between Selly Oak and Rednal. They were garaged at Dawlish Road depot. By the end of the year, two more routes had been opened; Five Ways to the General Hospital and a tramway extension route between Selly Oak and Rubery.
General powers to operate omnibuses in the city were authorised by the Birmingham Corporation Act of 1914, however, at this time, the Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company was already operating motorbuses to destinations within the city, which conflicted with the Corporation’s plans to consolidate services within the city boundary.
Consequently, in February 1914, the Company and the Corporation signed an agreement, which permitted the Company to operate services into the city from places outside the city boundaries, subject to protective fares being charged.
As a result, the leasehold on the BMMO’s Tennant Street garage (plus 30 vehicles) was transferred to Birmingham Corporation.
With the onset of the First World War in 1914, Birmingham Corporation’s first ten bus chassis were commandeered by the War Department, the bodies being removed and stored until 1915 when replacement vehicles, in the form of 10 Tilling-Stevens TS3’s, received them.
In 1916 the Corporation received a batch of 18 Daimler Y types, but before they could all enter service, the War Department again commandeered six of the chassis. They were replaced by six Tilling-Stevens TS3’s, which received the bodies from some of the ex-BMMO vehicles that were in the process of withdrawal.
By 1922, although no further purchases of omnibuses were made in the interim period, Birmingham Corporation was keen to expand the network of services. However, the Public Works Committee objected to the new omnibuses on the grounds that the solid tyres damaged the roads.
As a result the Corporation agreed that all new omnibuses should be fitted with pneumatic tyres. In 1923, fourteen AEC 503 open-top vehicles and nine Daimler CK2 single-deckers were received.
The Corporation also adopted the policy of specifying top-covers for all double-deck buses after the success of top-covered trolleybuses the previous year, thus pioneering the fully enclosed double-decker.
What is claimed to be the first top-covered double-deck omnibus to operate anywhere in the UK entered service on the 24th July 1924. Numbered 101, it was designed by Alfred Baker, the Birmingham Corporation General Manager, based on an AEC 504 chassis.
Most of the buses were still being garaged in the tramway depots and the Corporation felt it was time for a purpose built depot to be constructed.
For a time, the former tram depot at Birchfield Road was used as a temporary bus garage until on the 10th June 1925, Barford Street omnibus garage opened; on 12th October 1926 Harborne garage opened, with accommodation for up to 100 vehicles.
The Tramways Committee, with much foresight, had already made plans for further extensions to the bus system and was consequently making preparations for the erection of more bus garages. In 1927 land was purchased on Tyburn Road for the erection of an omnibus overhaul and repair workshop.
In 1928, Acocks Green bus garage, with accommodation for 50 more vehicles, was opened and in 1932 Perry Barr garage, with a capacity of 120, was opened.
At the same time, the growing number of omnibuses in the fleet prompted the Corporation to change the name of the undertaking to Birmingham Corporation Tramways and Omnibus Department, finally becoming Birmingham City Transport on the 9th November 1937.
Following trials of vehicles supplied by many of the major bus manufacturers between 1930 and 1933, the Corporation chose the Daimler chassis as the basis of its fleet for the next few years and, as a result, over 800 Daimler chassis were purchased before the outbreak of war in 1940.
During the war years the supply of new buses was sparse and only 149 vehicles were allocated to Birmingham by the War Department. Birmingham was the target for many air raids and, despite dispersing vehicles by parking out overnight, enemy action resulted in considerable damage and twenty buses were completely destroyed.
There was also considerable interchanging of bodies during this period in order to make good the damage and keep the services running. Fuel was rationed, necessitating cuts to bus services, some of which were never restored.
Much of the workforce was called up and during the course of the war the Department recruited over 7,000 women workers to keep the wheels turning.
When peace was declared in 1945 Birmingham Corporation was faced with many problems, not least the fact that not all the former personnel would be returning to work, leading to a severe staff shortage.
Despite this, however, Birmingham Corporation continued to implement service revisions, including, in 1946, all-night buses. By March 1948 the bus fleet stood at 1,262 vehicles.
Over the next few years the introduction of shorter working hours and the resulting increase in operational costs mean that annual fare increases become the norm, and an annual operating deficiency was a regular occurrence.
This also resulted in the appearance of advertisements on Birmingham’s buses, up until then resisted as being undesirable.
In February 1950 the first of a 100 new Crossley vehicles entered service sporting the new design of Birmingham front, which the Transport Department had been working on since the previous year.
It represented a radical rethink of the design of the front end of the bus, with the radiator being totally enclosed behind a grille. At the same time the destination indicator and route number box were given more prominence. This was to give Birmingham’s fleet a distinctive look over the next decade or so.
Throughout the 1950’s Birmingham, like so many other operators at the time, suffered a gradual decline in passenger traffic. The Transport Committee identified a number of factors, including the rise in popularity of the motor car, the extension of the five-day working week and the effects of television on the leisure-time activities of the public.
The bus fleet, which had steadily risen since bus services were first introduced, peaked at around 1800 vehicles. There was also a considerable staff shortage during this period, often resulting in hundreds of journeys a day being withdrawn, which did nothing to promote passenger confidence.
Between 1955 and 1960 no new buses were acquired, except a solitary AEC Bridgemaster in 1957. By 1960 it was apparent that the future lay in high capacity vehicles and a number of vehicles underwent trials with Birmingham Corporation.
In 1961 10 Leyland PDR1/1 Atlanteans were delivered and in 1962 10 Daimler CRG6 Fleetlines arrived. In the event the preferred vehicle was the Daimler Fleetline and an order for 100 CRG6’s was placed in 1963, the vehicles being delivered later that year.
A further 100 Fleetlines were ordered in 1964, with 100 more ordered in 1965. The fleet, however, was in decline and now numbered just under 1700 vehicles and the problem of acute staff shortages continued.
The development of a large housing estate at Aldridge, just outside the city boundary, led to an agreement in 1965 with Harper Brothers, of Heath Hayes which resulted in the private company being licensed to run into the city centre.
Walsall Corporation also commenced through services to the city centre at the same time.
By 1966, concern was voiced over the continued loss of passenger traffic. The number of buses ordered reflected this, just 76 (reduced from an initial order of 100) more Fleetlines, however, in 1967 another 100 Fleetlines were ordered.
Despite these problems, the Department was making an operating surplus by the time it was absorbed into the West Midlands PTE.
On 3rd April 1967 a peak hour express service was inaugurated between Navigation Street and Rubery using 12 new Strachan-bodied Ford R192 chassis. These vehicles were one-man-operated and were the precursors of the wholesale conversion to one-man-operation.
In June 1967, one-man-operated double-deckers were introduced on certain routes on Sundays and in July 1967 the Lodge Road route was converted wholly to one-man-operation, making Birmingham the first city in the country to introduce one-man-operated double-deck buses on ordinary stage carriage services.
A further 100 Daimler Fleetlines were ordered for delivery in 1969, the year in which the 1968 Transport Act authorised the formation of the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive.
Accordingly, on the 1st October 1969, the control of Birmingham Corporation Transport Department, along with all its assets, came under the control of the PTE, thus ending 56 years of municipal bus operations in the city, and almost 100 years of Birmingham Corporation involvement in local transport.
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
Birmingham Corporation Transport 1904-1939 and Birmingham Corporation Transport 1939-1969 (Paul Collins, Ian Allan 1999); PSV Circle Fleet Histories PD9C and PD10C.