Double-decker buses seem to be a bit off-topic when it comes to the mass rapid transit system in big cities. While regular single-decker buses are a common medium of transport for most people, double-decker buses are viewed as a luxury tourist bus, or a festival, or even a movie shooting. Little did most people know that double-decker buses go back to the days of British rule in India when it was cheap transport for the middle-class people across different cities in India.
Kolkata was possibly one of the first cities in India to get double-decker buses. The first double-decker bus ran in 1926 from Kalighat in South Kolkata to Shyambajar in North Kolkata. The next city to get double-decker buses is Mumbai, which has been running these iconic red-painted double-decker buses since at least 1937. The third on the timeline is Thiruvananthapuram since 1938. Hyderabad also got its fleet of double-decker buses when the last Nizam ruler introduced them in the city in the 1940s.
Chennai and Delhi started double-decker bus service quite late in 1975 and 1969 respectively. Both were short-lived and have been replaced by regular buses. Kolkata and Hyderabad both were doing well with the popularity of double-decker buses till the 1990s when they were gradually phased out. The last double-decker buses in Kolkata and Hyderabad were in 2005 and 2004 respectively. Mumbai and Thiruvananthapuram on the other hand did well to continue the double-decker bus services albeit in a much lesser number than before.
Road under bridges, flyovers, bridges, rail under bridges, high tension wires, level crossings, as well as narrow, congested sections with sharp turns cause severe limitations to the operational routes of these buses in large cities. Hence these buses have scope to operate in only limited routes, which most of the time are unplanned and unpopular, competing with other means of transport or regular buses. Though a double-decker bus can accommodate a greater number of passengers, in most routes they operate almost empty, incurring heavy operational losses. These limitations, along with age and unavailability of spare parts and low speed, forced state governments to switch over to single-decker buses.
As the cityscape changes, double-decker buses also need to get modernised. Most double-decker buses in Mumbai and Thiruvananthapuram are old and rusty, creating more pollution and making more noise. Modernising double-decker buses is considered the first step in both Mumbai and Thiruvananthapuram. Mumbai’s bus operator, BEST has launched a new initiative to not only replace the existing buses with modern double-decker buses but also make sure they are a sustainable mode of transport for the citizens. These new buses will emit less pollution as they run on BS-6 diesel engines. Thiruvananthapuram has operated double-decker buses mainly in tourist circuits such as Shangumugham beach.
The double-decker buses have a wide potential in satellite towns and suburbs as they have wide roads, hardly any bridges or sharp turns, and are devoid of any height barrier. Kolkata and Hyderabad are looking forward to calling back double-decker buses in streets, especially the satellite town areas. Kolkata has already launched a new open-top double-decker bus for tourism purposes. However, as a mass transport system, it is yet to set the benchmark as it had done previously during British times.
Cities across the world have called for come back of double-decker buses that may boost tourism, as well as be a mode of local transportation. London, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dublin are witnessing a rise in double-decker buses as a mass transportation system. Full AC, open-top, electric, hybrid, trolley are some features of new modern double-decker buses. Soon, with the mix of old and new features, we are looking forward to seeing double-decker buses across Indian streets also.
Written by – Himadri Paul