Christmas Day 2017 marked 85 years of operation by Sydney's Government bus operator, the State Transit Authority.
On December 25th 1932, a small operation commenced with primitive White petrol-engined buses, on Route 144 between Cremorne Junction and Manly Wharf via The Spit, feeding to tram services at either end. Over the prevailing 85 years, from small beginnings taking over early private bus operators, through a World War entering onto the Home Front, vicious union disputes, the Olympics, and into the 21st century.
The operation has grown enormously to become the State Transit Authority which serves on average 640,000 Sydneysiders every day.
To mark this occasion, State Transit, Transit Graphics, APN Advertising and Townsend Signs have come together to wrap 12 buses in special liveries recalling bygone liveries and historic events over the years.
DRTT Red & Cream livery - 1933 to 1948
The initial takeover of private operators had left the DRTT with a hodge-podge fleet of mainly single decker buses of many makes, making operations and servicing difficult. There was much expansion of routes over this time, both through the absorption of other operators and creation of new routes to meet expanding demand. However, with the exception of replacing one tram route to Woolloomooloo Bay, the buses continued to operate as feeders to the tram services. Although the Sydney Harbour Bridge opened in 1932, it wasn't until 1937 that Route 2 (later 202) was permitted to extend across the Harbour Bridge to operate between Wynyard and Northbridge. Previously, passengers were expected to change between bus and tram at North Sydney.
By 1933, the Department was ordering new double decker buses on imported AEC, Leyland and Albion chassis, with bodies built locally by companies like Waddingtons (later Commonwealth Engineering), Clyde Engineering, Syd Wood and Ritchie Brothers.
After initial experiments with red liveries similar to the London Transport livery, a livery of red and cream bands with a brown roof separated by black lining was settled on for the double deck fleet. This was simplified in 1940, deleting most of the black lining, as a wartime economy measure. Single deck buses adopted a smart black and white livery with brown roof until 1938 when the single deck buses started to receive green & cream paintwork, like the trams of the time.
The Museum has in its collection Albion Model 80 1187, dating from 1935, and Leyland TD4 1579, dating from 1937, preserved in this livery. AEC Regent 1688 is under restoration and will be restored to the post-1940 simplified livery.
This livery is represented on bus 2799, operating from Leichhardt depot.
DRTT Camouflage livery - 1942
World War II took place between 1939 and 1945. The initial theater focused on Europe and the Atlantic, but by 1941 it was clear that Australia was under direct threat from a Japanese invasion, and Prime Minister John Curtin put military priorities first for the defense of the nation.
This had major effects on the bus network. The threat to shipping led to rationing of materials such as rubber for tyres, lubricating oils and diesel for fuel. Then the buses themselves were required for troop movements from time to time - the arrival of a converted troop ship such as the Acquitania, Queen Elizabeth or Queen Mary could see up to a third of the bus fleet requisitioned for troop movements to places as remote as Goulburn and Orange. Bus crews are recorded as having worked shifts up to 19 hours long on these troop movements. Of course, the job of transporting passengers in Sydney and Newcastle had to continue. Passengers were encouraged to travel outside of peak hour, and with petrol rationing forcing motorists to take public transport, the bus and tram network was pushed right to its limits.
The most visible change occurred in 1942, when Eastern Command asked for the bus fleet to be painted in camouflage colours to help disguise troop movements. After the shelling of Newcastle and North Bondi by Japanese submarines, buses operating along the coast had their saloon windows replaced with tin plates, to remove the risk of a shell shattering glass over passengers. The sliding metal panels were removed as soon as the threat subsided, and glass reinstalled.
It is also notable that the staff shortages apparent during the war saw the first employment of females as conductresses on buses and corridor trams.
The Museum has two buses preserved from the wartime period - AEC Regent 1694, restored to camouflage condition with blanked windows, headlight covers and enclosed back platform; and Ford Austerity 1756, built to relieve a bus shortage when the only chassis available were American truck chassis, with an expected lifespan of no more than five years.
Most State Transit depots in Sydney (and Hamilton in Newcastle) contain War Memorials, dedicated to members of the Department who gave their lives during wartime.
This livery is represented on bus 2356, operating from North Sydney depot.
DGT Green & Cream livery - 1946 to 1983
Following the extreme pressures of World War II, and with normality resuming, the Department focused on updating its fleet, most of which had gone without overhaul or serious maintenance.
A total of 897 double decker buses were eventually ordered from Leyland, Albion and AEC. The first of these, the Leyland OPD1s, delivered from 1946, adopted the new green & cream livery. Apart from small modifications to the lining, this livery was to be the standard paint scheme that all buses wore from 1946 to 1970.
Double decker buses, 31-seater 'Frog' buses, the 'Underfloor' type Leyland ERTs and AEC Regal IVs and Mark I Leyland Leopards were all delivered in this livery.
During this period, the policy of tram replacement, halted by the war, gained momentum. In 1939, the Manly tram system had closed. This was followed in 1949 by the Newcastle system, the Ryde line to Drummoyne in 1956 and in 1958 by the North Sydney system, the 'Green Lines' through Newtown, and the 'Red Lines' along Parramatta Rd. February 1961 saw the final tram operate when the La Perouse - Circular Quay line closed.
New bus depots opened up during this period to house the expanding fleet required to take over the tram lines - Kingsgrove Depot in 1948, Pagewood depot in 1951 (later closed and relocated to Port Botany), Brookvale Depot in 1952, Ryde Depot in 1953 and Willoughby and Leichhardt Depots in 1958. A large portion of the new bus workforce were former tram staff.
Petrol rationing was concluded in 1950 by Prime Minister Menzies, and the private car took off, causing a decrease in bus passengers.
The Green & Cream livery is fondly remembered as the 'golden days' of the Department of Government Transport, as the hard working double deckers carried their passengers to school, to work, and for recreation. The end of the last picture shows late on Friday and Saturday nights caused a mini peak hour at 11.30pm in the suburbs, with buses provided to transport patrons home!
In the Museum's collection, most of our preserved double deckers are resplendent in the green & cream, in all conditions from freshly-painted and newly restored AEC Regent III 2338, to the faded and in-service look of Albion CX19W 2023. AEC Regal IV 3197, Leyland OPS2/1 'Frog' 2599 and Leyland Mark I Leopard 3752 are some of our single deck examples.
This livery is represented on bus 2652, operating from Willoughby depot, and demonstrates the livery as applied to a 'second series' Underfloor.
DGT Royal Visit livery - 1954
The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II as the Queen of the United Kindom (and thus the Commonwealth) occurred in 1952. In 1953-1954, the Queen embarked on a tour of her Commonwealths, including a visit to Australia during February, March and April 1954.
Sydney spared no effort for the Royal Visit, and the Department of Government Transport was no exception. Two 'R1' class trams and two new AEC Regal IV Underfloors with Comeng bodies were painted in a blue and white livery with red lining, had cushions added to the seats, adorned with Royal Ciphers on their sides and large fibreglass crowns mounted to their tops. Two trams were also painted in a red and cream livery, also being fitted with Royal Ciphers and crowns.
The Royal Visit saw one of the largest movements of passengers ever by buses (and trams) in Sydney over several days in early February to see the Queen - with the DGT spread between providing intense services to various events and the hiring of vehicles for charter.
As one example, 105,000 school children had to be transported to a display at the old Sydney Showground, Moore Park on February 5th - an enormous transport task!
Buses 2783, 2784, 2785 and 2786 were those painted in the special livery and operated all over the network, including Newcastle. Following the conclusion of the visit, the regalia was removed with the buses wearing the liveries progressively shopped for overhaul and repaint in 1956 and 1959.
None of the four Royal Visit buses have ended up in the Museum's collection, so a bus from the same batch, 2807, has been painted in the Royal Visit livery and is on display.
This livery is represented on bus 2783, operating from Port Botany depot.
PTC Blue & White livery - 1969 to 1989
The Public Transport Commission was formed on the 17th of October 1972, with Mr Phillip Shirley taking up the position of Chief Commissioner. It took control of the bus and ferry operations in metropolitan Sydney, as well as the statewide rail network.
However, the familiar blue & white livery actually pre-dated the establishment of the PTC by about 3 years. The first 'Blue Leopard', 3754, was unveiled on the 8th of September 1969 at a public ceremony in Hyde Park. The next launch, which took place on the 8th of May 1970, was of a vehicle that was to split the DGT and cause an intense and bitter industrial dispute that lasted nearly 18 months: the double-deck Leyland Atlantean.
Eventually totaling 224, from 1001 to 1224, the Atlanteans were designed for driver only operation, without a conductor. The bus crews union at the time, the ATMOEA (Amalgamated Tramways and Motor Omnibus Employees Association), objected strongly to this. Driver only operation of some single-deck buses had been permitted since 1951, but the Union continually opposed the elimination of conductors and the placing of additional responsibilities on the driver.
Attempts were made to roster one-man Atlanteans in September 1970, but this was pushed back until 1st March, 1971. That morning, a driver from Mona Vale refused to drive a one-man Atlantean service and was suspended. In response, Brookvale and Mona Vale depot staff went on strike. The strike spread to North Sydney and Willoughby depots as crews refused to operate their buses into the 'black' area. The Warringah bus strike lasted 27 days with services resuming after the one-man shifts were removed (Willoughby / North Sydney services resumed on the 10th of March).
The dispute continued, with some 'rebel' drivers operating one-man services, in some cases with police escorts. The DGT continued to suspend drivers who refused to drive the buses. A second strike period commenced with a 24 hour strike on the 29th of November 1971, followed by an indefinite Sydney-wide strike starting from the 1st of December. This culminated in a vote of ATMOEA members on December 20, at which 1,035 voted to return to work with 894 against. Services resumed as normal on December 21, with the DGT agreeing to re-employ all dismissed staff without punishment. Conditions were agreed to on Atlantean operation, with one-man operation only permitted outside of the boundaries of the City on Express services. This ruling meant that with queue conductor assistance at Wynyard, one-man operation of Northern Beaches services could commence.
During and after the Atlantean dispute, deliveries of new buses continued. The last Atlantean was delivered in 1973, and the last Leopard in 1976. As stated earlier, the mandarin blue and ivory white livery of new buses was adopted as the PTC's colours, being rolled out to older buses, trains, ferries, structures and marketing material.
In 1977, after years of Leyland bus domination, the first Mercedes-Benz bus appeared on the scene. They were revolutionary in terms of driver and passenger comfort - featuring a beefy 11.1 litre 6-cylinder diesel engine, fully automatic gearboxes, full power steering (as opposed to the power-assist of the later Leopards) and hub reduction giving a top speed of 85kph (50mph), where previous buses were governed between 30mph and 40mph. The Mercedes-Benz era was to continue through five distinct 'marks', over 1,500 vehicles and last until 2013.
From the PTC era, the Museum holds the following buses in its collection: Leyland Atlanteans 1003 and 1224 (the last built), Leyland 'Mark II' or 'Blue' Leopard 1765, and Mercedes-Benz O305 'Mark I' 1923.
Sydney Opera House opening celebrations - 1973
Starting from a design competition won by Danish architect Jørn Utzon in 1957, the Sydney Opera House opened after much controversy, including cost overruns and construction delays. The official opening took place on the 20th of October 1973. To mark this occasion, the PTC decorated three of its new Mark II 'Blue Leopards' and several single-deck electric trains with symbolic artwork variously depicting the sail design of the Opera House and a stylized Waratah design.
This livery is represented on bus 2833, operating from Burwood depot, and depicts a 'Blue Leopard' with the Opera House opening artwork.
PTC 'Mark II' livery - 1978 to 1998
During the delivery of the 199 'Mark I' Mercedes-Benz O305 buses, a prototype was built which became 1951. This bus was built to German VOV-standard designs by Pressed Metal Co, Smithfield, and led to an order of a further 550 Mercedes-Benz O305 buses to this design, becoming the 'Mark II' series. These were delivered in a new paint scheme, of a dark blue skirt and bumper, light blue and white stripes, dark blue around the windows and a white roof. Deliveries took place between 1978 and 1980.
The Mark II type included several mechanical refinements over the earlier Mark I buses, as well as modifications to the body. One change to the angle of the roof required smaller route numbers to be installed, which provoked many complaints. Some buses had larger numbers fitted during later overhauls.
Following the delivery of the 550 'Mark II's in 1980, further refinements were carried out on the already proven design, and a further 182 'Mark III' buses followed in 1981 and 1982. These buses featured anti-lock or ABS brakes, a modified window arrangement, push-button gear selectors and the fitting of larger route numbers!
With a fleet of 932 Mercedes-Benz O305s in service at the time, a further 355 rigid buses were ordered and delivered between 1983 and 1987. These featured squarer bodies and a different livery of light blue stripes on white with a dark blue band around the windows, and became the Mark IVs.
The buses were numbered as follows:
Mark I: 1766 - 1950, 1952 - 1965
Mark II: 1951, 1966 - 2515
Mark III: 2516 - 2549, 2580 - 2716, 2718 - 2727
Articulated O305G: 2550 - 2579
Mark IV: 2717, 2728 - 3070, 3072 - 3082
Following the trial of a O305G articulated bus in 1981-2, 29 further articulated buses were ordered and delivered in 1983-4, these buses are covered in a separate section below.
With a total of 1,370 Mercedes O305 buses running, it could be said that most of Sydney's bus passengers commuted to work on a Mercedes! The Mercedes buses phased out the buses which had been purchased in the late 1950s to replace the trams, as well as early Leopard buses.
This livery is represented on bus 2559, operating from Kingsgrove depot.
UTA 'Sydney Explorer' livery - 1980 to 2010
The PTC was dissolved in May 1980 with its operations being split into three bodies: the State Rail Authority, the Urban Transit Authority and the Railway Workshops Board. The Urban Transit Authority became responsible for bus and ferry operations in the metropolitan regions of Sydney and Newcastle.
November 23rd 1980 saw the introduction of a new service, following repeated requests from the NSW Department of Tourism. This was the Sydney Explorer, numbered Route 111. It operated a circular loop linking major city attractions. The initial route operated Circular Quay - Opera House - State Parliament - Art Gallery - Mrs Macquarie's Chair - Kings Cross - Elizabeth Bay - Potts Point - NSW Musuem - Central Station - Chinatown - Wynyard - Millers Point / The Rocks - Circular Quay.
The service was operated by Randwick depot, with five Mark II O305s painted in a special red livery, with public address and cassette sound systems fitted. The driver acted as a guide, pointing out attractions and explaining history along the route. As the years progressed, newer buses were allocated to the service, including Mark IV, O405 PMC160s and low-floor Scania L113s. The route was also modified and extended to Darling Harbour, McMahons Point, Milsons Point and the Sydney Aquarium.
A second service, the Bondi and Bay Explorer was started in 1998, serving as a tourist service from Circular Quay - Watsons Bay - Bondi Beach - Coogee - Randwick Racecourse - Circular Quay. These buses had a blue and white livery and were numbered Route 222.
Both the Sydney Explorer and the Bondi Explorer ceased to be operated by State Transit from November 2010, with City Sightseeing taking over the service and operating it with open top double decker buses.
Other special services of note have included:
- Airport Express, route 300, introduced in October 1982. Operating between Circular Quay, Eddy Avenue and Airport (Domestic and International terminals). Airport Express buses were initially painted in a blue & yellow livery, later changed to a green & yellow livery. Extensions of the route served Kings Cross and Dee Why. Airport Express ceased in 2003 following the opening of the AirportLink Railway line. Operated by Pagewood and later Port Botany depot.
- The Rocks Shuttle, route 456, introduced in 1992 and ceasing in 1994. This service featured Mark 5 buses decorated to resemble former Sydney trams, and operated between Circular Quay - The Rocks - Darling Harbour - Chinese Gardens - Maritime Museum - Powerhouse Museum - Railway Square and return. Operated by North Sydney depot.
This livery is represented on bus 2579, operating from Randwick depot.
UTA Brown & Gold articulated bus livery - 1983 to 1998
In 1980, the UTA took delivery of a Mercedes-Benz O305G articulated three-axle bus, bodied by Pressed Metal Corp to the Mark III design. This demonstrator was numbered 2550. Following acceptance of this demonstrator, a further 29 production buses were built, and became buses 2551 - 2579. These production buses were delivered in 1983 and 1984, and differed from 2550 in having no third door in the trailer section along with the fitting of turbocharged OM407hA engines. 2550 was later modified to the same standard as the others.
The production buses were painted in a striking brown, gold and white livery to differentiate them from the blue & white rigid Mercedes buses.
The 30 artics were allocated to the Northern Beaches, 15 each to Mona Vale and Brookvale depots, replacing Atlantean double deckers on all but one peak hour route, although it wasn't until 1985 that roadworks at the Bilgola Bends allowed the artics to operate north of Mona Vale.
They were initially operated to the same Union rules as the Atlanteans, requiring queue conductor assistance in the City area, which saw them restricted to peak-hour routes.
Most conductors, with the exception of some queue or street-side conductors and a small number of 'jumper conductors' (working heavily-loaded sections of a route then changing to another bus) had been phased by May 1981.
Atlantean double deckers were still required to operate one peak hour route, the 189 from Wynyard to Taylors Point. The tight and twisty route near the terminus was considered too tight for articulated buses, and yet the required passenger capacity was in excess of standard buses. The situation prevailed until 1986, with Mona Vale retaining seven Atlanteans for this service. The Atlantean era ended on May 16th 1986, with 1179 operating the last passenger service. This closed the era of double decker buses in Sydney, until the new generation of double deckers commenced service in 2012 for private operators and in 2017 for State Transit on the B-Line.
The articulated buses, like the rigid Mercedes before them, proved mechanically reliable and popular with passengers and crews alike. They could soon be found out on trunk services on the Northern Beaches and Warringah areas throughout the day, the L90 from Palm Beach to Wynyard and Central being a very common artic run. The attractive brown and gold livery faded and turned tatty, so when the new State Transit corporate livery was rolled out in 1993 these buses were so treated.
In 2004, an order for 80 new Volvo B12BLEA articulated buses was placed. This was intended to replace the ageing Mercedes vehicles, with deliveries occurring in 2005 and 2006. 16 of the O305Gs were withdrawn then, but some hung on until 2010 with unprecedented bus demands due to high petrol prices. A handful were sent to Port Botany depot, the only time these magnificent machines served outside of the North.
The Museum has in its collection one such O305G, number 2556 from Brookvale Depot.
This livery is represented on bus 1742, operating from Mona Vale depot.
UTA 'Silver Service' livery - 1987 to 1994
The next generation in the Mercedes era was the Mark 5, which started with a sleek new design that appeared in 1987.
This bus, numbered 3071, was the first on the new O405 chassis and was much squarer than the preceding designs. It also appeared in a striking silver, blue and black livery dubbed 'Silver Service. This was to show a new era of the Urban Transit Authority, and 3071 was displayed alongside a new Tangara train at Central Station for a publicity launch.
3071 was delivered with several new innovations, being fitted with Kiel bucket seats and a new style of destination equipment. Unfortunately, both were not carried across to the production order.
The Silver Service livery was adopted by Burwood depot as a special livery for its charter vehicles at a time when the regions of State Transit were in competition with each other for charter work. Silver Service survived up until 1994, when the new State Transit corporate livery was introduced, and a restructure brought the charter operations under one banner.
This livery is represented on bus 2829, operating from Ryde depot.
UTA 'Mark V' livery - 1987 to 2000
The production order from the O405 / 3071 prototype was placed with Mercedes-Benz and Pressed Metal Co and eventually 247 Mark 5 buses entered service. These buses had no mechanical difference from the prototype, and specified the same VOV body fitted with standard Calico destination rolls and vinyl bench seats like the Mark IVs before. These Mark Vs were numbered from 3083 to 3252, and 3305 to 3380. These buses appeared at every depot in Sydney and Newcastle.
The Mercedes dominance from the Mark I to the Mark V was broken only by an order for 50 MAN SL202s placed in 1989, in the middle of the Mark V order. 30 of these were fitted with Voith gearboxes and operated from Willoughby, and the other 20 fitted with ZF gearboxes and operated from Randwick. These had the same VOV-style body as the Mark Vs built by Pressed Metal, and filled the gap from 3253 to 3302. 3303 and 3304 were Renault PR100.2 demonstrators, again with PMC VOV- bodies.
Of note among the Mark Vs were 3251 and 3252, the last buses of the first batch, which had engines and equipment fitted to operate on Compressed Natural Gas. The last buses built in 1990, 3375 - 3380, were fitted with heating equipment and radio equipment for the then-new NightRide service to Campbelltown which State Transit operated at its inception from Kingsgrove depot.
In 1991, the new State Transit Authority came into being. Charged with metropolitan Sydney & Newcastle bus and ferry services, the 'Snail' was adopted as its logo.
The Mark V, and indeed the non-air conditioned era, closed in February 2016. Withdrawals had commenced 3 years earlier as buses reached the 25-year age limit.
This livery is represented on bus 2706, operating from Brookvale depot.
UTA 'Celebration of a Nation', Australia's Bicentennial livery - 1988
In 1988, Australia celebrated the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet carrying the initial convict settlement. To mark the occasion, a re-enactment of the First Fleet using tall ships was sailed from Portsmouth, and events took place around Australia culminating in a huge celebration on Australia Day (26th January) in Sydney Harbour. Considerable Government funding was made available for infrastructure projects, community events and works, and many other things under the Bicentennial banner.
In terms of Transport, nine new ferries were purchased for Sydney Harbour operation, becoming the First Fleet class. These were delivered between 1984 and 1986, and were named after nine members of the First Fleet. Two additional smaller ferries were constructed for service in Newcastle.
16 of the new Mark V buses and several earlier Mark IV buses were painted in a special livery to mark the occasion, being all over white with multi-coloured streamers, balloons and signwriting.
This livery is represented on bus 2683, operating from Waverley depot.
STA Sydney 2000 Olympic Bid livery - 1992
September 24th 1993, saw Sydney awarded the rights to host the 2000 Olympic & Paralympic Games.
The bid process started in 1991 when the State Government, under premier Nick Greiner, resolved to bid for the 2000 Olympics. John Fahey, later premier, championed the bid. The bid revolved around a new Stadium facility being built on former industrial land at Homebush Bay, which had been used as an abattoirs and brickworks. The bid branding took on the motto 'Share the Spirit'.
To support the bid, a short video was made. Three buses were decorated in special livery, as were several Tangara trains. Mark V 3198 was one of the buses so painted, and adopted a blue livery. The other two were red and green variations on the same design.
The 2000 Olympics proved a great test of the City's transport network.
An organisation named Bus2000 was set up from elements of the Department of Transport and RTA to manage the huge bus requirements.
Buses were required to transport Olympic athletes, the media and Games attendees to various venues around Sydney. Although most venues and the Athletes village were centrally located at Olympic Park (Homebush Bay), some venues were located further afield like the Rowing Venue at Penrith, the Velodrome at Bankstown and the Equestrian Centre at Horsley Park.
Buses were drafted in from private operators around NSW and from interstate to assist the event. Special depots were set up at Greystanes, Regents Park and Randwick. The Regents Park depot, temporarily set up on disused Defence land, housed 1000 buses, split into three groups for Athletes and Officials, Media and Workforce. Drivers were also drafted in from everywhere possible, and an intense training program was devised, consisting of books, maps and video tapes.
State Transit's role included running a regular route service (school holiday) timetable to serve normal commuters, as well as operating Special Event routes 1A/1B (Warriewood - Olympic Park), 2A/2B (Glebe Point / Victoria Road - Olympic Park) & 4 (Maroubra - Olympic Park). A special operation was managed in the Olympic Village, living quarters for the athletes, where 24 new gas O405NH buses operated a 24 hour a day loop service between different elements of the village.
Other STA activities included lending operations & management staff to the Regents Park depot, operating shuttle services to various venues, media bus shuttles, a City loop service that carried around 180,000 passengers, and 24-hour operation on major corridors. Newcastle Buses operated to a Sunday timetable during the Games, with released buses and drivers transferred to Sydney.
Just prior to the commencement of the Games, premier Bob Carr stated that transport was the biggest and most challenging unknown heading into the event. In the event, the transport network held itself high and achieved successfully what was considered an almost impossible task.
This livery is represented on bus 2651, operating from Tempe depot.
Thanks to the following who have contributed images and information to this page:
- Dean Jones, David Wilson, Leon Sharpe, Peter Jacono, John Ward, Bob Gioia, Graeme Knappick, Craig Parkinson, Vic Solomons, Alan Travers, Matthew Doyle.