A Brief History of Bus and Coach Services on the Island

THE first motor char-a-bancs in the Island were operated by the Manx Electric Railway Co., which used them on a service between Snaefell Bungalow and Tholt-y-Will from 1907. In July of the same year Douglas Corporation obtained powers to run omnibuses within the Borough, but the services were provided by contractors using horse-buses.

In May 1914 the Corporation bought a Straker-Squire and the first of many Tilling-Stevens motor buses. The fleet slowly grew through the 1920s, the fleet consisting of Tilling-Stevens petrol-electric single deckers, with only two exceptions. One of these chassis was later preserved at the British Transport Museum and is currently displayed (though not in DCTD livery) at the Covent Garden Transport Museum. As new routes were added to the growing town, the first of many AEC vehicles arrived in 1933; the products of Southall were to continue to find favour until 1968. The fleet maximum of nearly fifty vehicles was reached just after World War II, and included three wartime utility Daimler CWA6 buses. Post-war additions and replacements included Guy Otters, Leyland Comets, Bedford VAS1 and YRQ types, as well as a batch of ex-Lancashire United Leyland Tiger Cubs. Douglas buses needed no Road Fund Licence to operate within the Borough, and a specially licensed group of vehicles was kept to run those routes that terminated beyond the boundary. At the time of its enforced destruction in 1976, the Douglas fleet consisted of 38 buses.

The onset of motor bus services to other parts of the Island began with a series of independent operators in the late 1920s; the most significant was Manxland Bus Service Ltd., a subsidiary of Cumberland Motor Services of Whitehaven, which started up in 1927. This posed a serious threat to the Isle of Man Railway's business and to fight the interloper, the Railway Company joined forces with the Douglas Car & Motor Hiring Association (headed by Eric W Faragher) to form Manx Motors Ltd. The union of interests was short-lived, for in June 1928 the Railway Company formed "Isle of Man Road Services" as one of its departments, and which ran in outright competition to Manx Motors, Manxland and everyone else. Two years later, in 1930 the Road Services was formally incorporated as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the IMR Co. parent. In due course this concern established a virtual monopoly of Island services outside Douglas.

Apart from those vehicles acquired by takeover, the Road Services fleet consisted mainly of Thornycrofts and Leylands, and a high proportion of postwar additions consisted of Leyland PS1, PD1 and PD2 chassis. For many years buses operating outside Douglas were not permitted to seat more than 34 passengers, so as to contain the size of the vehicle; repeated attempts to get the antiquated law changed were made, with no success, until a 56-seat Leyland double-decker arrived in 1946, and which operated for some time with all but eight seats upstairs roped off, until the law was duly amended. After 1965 a series of second-hand acquisitions arrived, notably a batch of Dennis Falcons from Aldershot & District, some Leyland PD3s from Stratford Blue and some Leyland PD3As from Bournemouth Corporation. From 1974, Leyland Nationals joined the fleet.

Tynwald's 1966 Transport Commission suggested the amalgamation of both the Douglas Corporation and IoM Road Service fleets, largely on the basis of imaginary-benefits and savings. In October 1976, Isle of Man National Transport Ltd. was formed as a Government-owned concern, and carried this scheme into effect, and further Leyland National saloons were acquired. In 1980 the government decided to amalgamate IoM National transport with the MER Board, with the Board's then 'chief executive' superimposed upon the professional management. The dark era that ensued saw the purchase of nearly 100 vehicles of nine different types in under seven years to maintain a quotient of sixty vehicles; these ranged from a 12-seat Ford minibus (which never entered service), a solitary ex-Manchester Seddon midibus to ex-Tyne & Wear, Merseyside and Manchester Atlanteans, ex-South Yorks Nationals and ex-Preston Panthers. In some cases the buses were scrapped before shipping; in others, immediately after arrival. One Panther achieved three months' service before being withdrawn for use as a semi-mobile advertising hoarding. It was later either lost or sold in Ireland. This nadir abruptly ended in 1987 with the arrival of Mr.Robert Smith, as Transport Executive, and who immediately initiated a proper programme of rolling stock renewal.

Coach operations on the Island have seen incredible changes over the last thirty years, largely mirroring the trends in the Island's tourist trade. In the mid-1960s there were many operators scattered around the main towns and villages, ranging from the owner/driver with one coach to other operators with reasonably sized fleets. As the tourist arrivals dwindled, many of these sold out or simply disappeared.

Gone are the cherished red and white Bedfords of Victoria Coaches, lined up by the War Memorial in Douglas on summer mornings. Gone are the exotic "Chinese-six" Bedford VALs including the "Flying Banana" of Amy Carefree Tours. No-longer do the quaintly titled Squirrel coaches operate the Laxey Wheel specials or the premium "Airport" services. Clybane, Darnills and Harrisons are other more recent casualties. By the 1970s, Tours (Isle of Man) Ltd became the largest fleet both within Douglas and on the Island.