With the exception of a few privately owned omnibus services, public
transport by road in the City of Birmingham may be considered to
have really commenced with the coming of the tramway era in the
years 1873-1875, but it was not until the 4th January, 1904, that
the Corporation commenced to operate its own services, and the Jubilee
of the Transport Undertaking is calculated from that date.
From the earliest days of tramway operation in the City it had
been the policy of the Corporation to construct the tramways and
lease them for a specified period to operating companies on terms
which repaid the capital outlay and ensured some income to the Corporation.
This arrangement included horse, steam and cable tramcars, and
later electric tramcars on the overhead system.
As the time for the expiration of the various leases drew near,
the City Council decided that they should be entire masters in their
own house, and by the Birmingham Corporation Act, 1903, obtained
Parliamentary powers to operate their own services.
A Tramways Committee was set up and appointed as their first General
Manager of Birmingham Corporation Tramways (as the Department was
then known) Mr. Alfred Baker, who had previously occupied the position
of Chief Officer of the London County Council Tramways.
The first route to be municipally operated was from Steelhouse
Lane to Aston Brook Street on the border of the adjacent Borough
of Aston Manor - ten double-deck tramcars being provided for this
purpose, with a Depot in Miller Street.
During the years 1904-11, the remainder of the leases expired and
the operation of the services concerned, with various extensions
and additions, was taken over by the Corporation. The majority of
these leases fell in on the 31st December, 1906, and the following
morning two hundred electric tramcars replaced the out-dated steam
and horse tramcars which had previously operated.
The construction of further tramways, mainly by way of extensions
of existing routes, continued up to and during the year 1928.
The considerable progress made in the development of the motor
omnibus between the years 1904 and 1912 influenced the Committee
to give consideration to the use of this type of vehicle, particularly
in respect of the more sparsely populated areas of the City which,
under the powers conferred by the Local Government Board's Provisional
Order (1910) Confirmation (No.13) Act 1911, had increased in area
from13,477 acres to 43,537 acres by the absorption of the neighbouring
authorities of Aston Manor, Erdington, Handsworth, Kings Norton
and Northfield, and Yardley.
The Corporation already possessed limited powers to operate motor
omnibuses under the Birmingham Corporation Act 1903, but these powers
restricted the running of such vehicles to periods during the construction,
alteration or repair of tramways, or in prolongation of any tramway
route, the extension of which might be contemplated. It was, therefore,
deemed desirable to obtain more comprehensive powers and by the
Birmingham Corporation Act, 1914, general powers to operate motor
omnibus services, within the City, were obtained. (Prior to this,
however, services under the powers contained in the 1903 Act had
been instituted in prolongation of tramway services as from the
19th July, 1913.)
It has always been the policy of the Committee to ensure that all
road transport catering for passengers travelling solely within
the City should be in its own hands.
Prior to 1914, a private motor omnibus company (Birmingham and
Midland Motor Omnibus Co. Ltd.) had been operating three or four
routes entirely within the city, and about that time were beginning
to develop services between Birmingham and adjacent towns and villages.
Negotiations were entered into with that Company, and as a result
their interests within the City were acquired by the Corporation,
and an Agreement for all time entered into with the Company, whereby,
it was provided that their services operating between adjacent towns
and Birmingham should not compete with those of the Corporation
within the City, and the Corporation, on their part, would not operate
outside the City except insofar as those services covered by inter-running
arrangements were concerned.
With the housing development, particularly on the outskirts of
the City, which took place during the years following the first
World War and the consequent removal of many persons from the congested
central areas of the City to these outlying areas, a vast network
of motor omnibus services to serve the new housing estates was built
up. Most of these services ran to and from the centre of the City
and for a portion of their journey, traversed the same roads on
which tramcars were operating. The public showed a decided preference
for the motor omnibus and in consequence, tramcar routes which previously
had been very remunerative ceased to be so.
Therefore, as the tramway routes became unrenumerative, they were
replaced by motor omnibus services - the first of such changes taking
place in 1930, and the whole programme being completed by the 4th
Before the Committee came to the decision, previously mentioned,
to replace all the tramway routes by motor omnibus services, they
considered it desirable to experiment with trolley-vehicles to see
whether these were more suitable for the kind of traffic for which
it was necessary to cater. Accordingly, powers were sought and obtained
by the Birmingham Corporation Act, 1922, to operate trolley vehicles,
and on the 27th November of that year, a service was commenced in
place of the tramway service which had previously operated between
the City Centre and Nechells. Incidentally, this was the first tramway
route in the Country to be completely replaced by the operation
of trolley vehicles, and the fleet consisted entirely of double-deck,
top covered vehicles. In order to secure further experience, the
Coventry Road tramway service was converted to trolley vehicle operation
on the 7th January, 1934. Following an extended trial, the Committee
decided that taking into account the particular circumstances which
existed in Birmingham, with its many tortuous and narrow central
streets, the motor omnibus was the more suitable vehicle in view
of its greater mobility.
When, therefore, the trolley vehicles on the Nechells and Coventry
Road routes reached the end of their useful life, they were replaced
by motor omnibuses.