Journey through time: Our history and heritage

2 years ago Wed 17th Nov 2021

Centenary of Dundee's First Buses

Public transport has a long, eventful history in Dundee. The city's first tram line opened in 1877, with more lines opening in the decades that followed before the final one was eventually withdrawn in 1956. But did you know that November 2021 marks exactly a century since buses took to the roads of Dundee for the first time?

This is a quick journey through time, showing how our past led up to the present:

Earliest Origins: Dundee Tramways (1877-1921)

In 1872, the town council ratified the Dundee Tramways Act. Five years later, this allowed creation of Dundee's first horse-drawn tram line from Albert Square to Windsor Street. By 1878, the system expanded towards Lochee and further into the West End. Horses pulled the carriages for many years; steam trams began to appear in 1885 before horses were replaced completely at the turn of the century.

Having originally leased the tracks to an outside enterprise, Dundee Corporation decided to take the trams under their control in 1899 and embarked on a project to modernise the system by electrifying the lines. Three routes (to West Park, Lochee and Maryfield) were upgraded within two years. By 1903, the network had extended as far west as Ninewells and as far north as Downfield. In the years leading up to the First World War, new routes continued to be added - including a takeover of what had previously been a separate operation to Broughty Ferry in 1915. In just sixteen years, the Corporation had more than doubled the tram network from 7 miles to 16.5 miles, but this peak only lasted a few years until the arrival of a new innovation in public transport: motorbuses.

Changed Days: Motorbuses Move In (1921-1931)

The Corporation trialed four Thornycroft single-deckers in 1921, but it was a short-lived experiment at the time, lasting just a few months. Buses came back into play in the autumn of 1922, becoming a permanent (and growing) feature on the network. Operating under a special Provisional Order, these were allowed to run anywhere within the city's boundaries - providing a more modern and flexible alternative to fixed tram tracks. As slums were cleared and the suburbs expanded during the interwar years, buses meant links could be offered to these new communities quickly and at low cost. Buses would often operate in between trams on shared routes - until the route via Constitution Road and Hilltown became the first tram line to be fully converted to buses in 1928.

Shortly after buses took to the road, the Transport Committee settled on dark green and ivory (with orange trim) as the iconic livery for buses and trams. Almost a hundred years later, we paid tribute to this by giving a modern bus a traditional paint job. Our heritage bus was sponsored in partnership with Dundee Museum of Transport, which opened in 2013.

A decade after the single-decks, the first double-deck buses were deployed in 1931 - with AECs and Daimlers soon chosen as the models of choice. The first batch ran from the Seagate to Broughty Ferry - an early precursor to today's services 5/5a.

Post War Trams-formation: Retiring Dundee's Trams (1945-1956)

Following the Second World War, the city's tram fleet entered its final phase. They ranged between 15 and 50 years old, in various states of repair. With cash and resources tight, there was little appetite to keep such old vehicles. By the 1950s, there were growing calls to retire the trams and focus completely on serving the city with buses. A trial began in 1955 to replace the Downfield-Blackness trams with buses for 12 months. This turned into a never-ending experiment, and the forerunner to today's service 22 was born.

The Committee officially decided in 1956 to retire the trams for good, with thousands of people turning out to watch the the last journey run up to Lochee on 20 October. After 79 years, the age of the trams was over.

Evolution: From the 'Corpie' to Tayside (1956-1986)

Like any industry, bus services continued to evolve over the years. It was in 1960 that Dundee invested for the final time in new half-cab buses with rear-door entry. From this point on: front-entry buses were felt to be safe and more suitable, as well as giving the Corporation flexibility to experiment with single-operator services in 1968. The first trial was short-lived, but financial pressures (in the face of falling bus use and rising car use) meant that this was tried again a year later - and it stuck. To speed things along, new ticket machines were introduced in 1972 along with the exact fare policy. It wouldn't be until 1978, however, that the last of the 'clippies' (conductors) were withdrawn from services to Fintry.

A change to local government boundaries in 1974 resulted in the Dundee Corporation ceasing to exist and making way for Tayside Regional Council in 1975. Despite the name change, TRC buses were largely confined to the city limits, acting as a direct successor to the Corporation and leaving country bus work to other operators. After decades of green buses on the city's streets, the livery was turned blue and white. Tayside Region quickly became the most enthusiastic of Volvo Ailsas - buying in more than 160 of them in less than ten years (between 1976 and 1984).

Tayside Buses (1986-1997)

Following legislative changes in 1985, the Regional Council stopped running public transport and made way for Tayside Buses. The blue and white livery was updated to a more modern blue and cream (with lots of experimental iterations in that colour scheme). The business became employee-owned for a few years, starting in 1991. Throughout the Tayside Buses era, Volvo Ailsas continued to be the dominant model in the fleet as they were good, reliable vehicles. A small fleet of minibuses were added in 1987; many operators tried them in narrower residential streets alongside bigger buses on the main roads. They weren't necessarily successful, so only lasted a short stint in service.

The Modern Era (1997-present)

In 1997, Tayside Buses was acquired by National Express and renamed 'Travel Dundee'. This led into the 21st century, where investment and innovation would continue at a great rate. For instance: in 2004, with the arrival of eighteen Gemini Eclipses, Dundee became the first city in Scotland with a 100% accessible low-floor fleet. We also worked with the local council to introduce a state-of-the-art real time information system at bus shelters across the network in 2005.

Smartcards were introduced under the 'Discovr' brand in 2013, followed by the launch of the ABC pass in 2016 - which allows passengers to use all bus companies in Dundee and the surrounding areas with just one ticket. An app was introduced in 2018, but this was just for tickets. Within three years, we had a brand new app which offers a one-stop-shop for all our passengers' travel needs: mTickets, journey planning and live service updates.

In 2013, our journey to zero began with the arrival of nine electric-hybrid buses for use on service 5. Dozens of new buses have joined the fleet in recent years, showing how serious we are about greening our fleet and helping people cut down on travel emissions. In 2018, the passenger experience was boosted by high-spec Emerald buses - which include modern features such as free WiFi, USB charging, leather seats and extra legroom. So far, services 5/5a/10 and 22 enjoy these top-quality vehicles. And by the end of 2021, our first Electric Emeralds will be running on service 28. The fleet of the future is here, and we're not stopping there: we're working with a range of partners to explore alternative fuels such as hydrogen so that we do our bit to protect the planet.

Our brand name transitioned from 'Travel Dundee' to 'National Express Dundee' in 2008. But we felt it was important to return to a more distinct, local identity which affirmed our attachment to the city. So, in 2015, we became Xplore Dundee (a name which nods to our heritage of intrepid discovery) and swapped the red/white livery for a dark green (which both symbolises our commitment to the environment and refers back to the final livery of the Corporation era). When McGill's acquired the business in 2021, it was decided that we would continue to operate as Xplore Dundee, showing that we are firmly rooted in the community we serve every day.