The Incredible History and Stories of Durban Transport
Durban’s first form of public transport was a coach service between Durban and Pietermaritzburg which was started by John Dare and ran for the first time on 15th March 1860. The coach was aptly named Perseverance because the journey used to take the whole day – one way.
The Dale brothers started a horse coach service in the town in the CBD 1870 and, on 25th March 1880, horse-drawn double-decker trams were introduced by Ramsay Collins. A competing service was started on 19th October 1885 by AK Murray and the two later joined forces under the banner of the Durban Borough Tramways Company.
The first municipal tramline in South Africa was laid in Florida Road and first used on 12th September 1892 with horses still providing the motive power. On 1 August 1899, the Durban Municipality bought out the private Durban Borough Tramways Company for £114000.
One of the oldest transport routes still running in Durban is the Umbilo Number 7 route which originally went from the terminus opposite the town hall, along West Street, Umbilo Road, Stellawood Road and Bartle Road to the terminus in Prospect Road.
Trams powered by electricity were introduced on 1 May 1902 and, although the first ones were imported, the municipal workshops in Durban began building their own tram bodies in 1910 and fitting them with imported motors. The trams built in Durban had the distinction of being the largest in the world. The last electric tram (no. 7015), affectionately known as Old Faithful, ran in Durban on 2nd August 1949.
July 1919 saw the introduction by Indian entrepreneurs of truck busses which were trucks converted to carry passengers. The first truck bus was apparently owned by Mr Siddhoo and operated between Riverside and the center of town.
Durban Transport received its first three single-decker Thornycroft petrol-engined busses on 15 June 1925, on 24 Nov 1934, its first Dennis diesel single decker bus and, on 20 August 1938, its first diesel-powered Daimler double-decker bus. The last diesel double-decker bus ran on 30 April 1967.
The Transport Department decided that its trams were getting old and electric trolley busses seemed a very modern and flexible alternative to the trams so a number were ordered. The first one ran on the Marine Parade Number 1 Route on 24 February 1935. Locals named the new busses Silent Death because they moved so silently that people couldn’t hear them coming, unlike the clanging trams, and they had to be extra careful not to step out into the road in front of them.
A feature of Durban’s trolley busses which made them unique in the world was that they were all equipped with fishing rod racks at the back. The Trolley busses were operated by a driver and a conductor who would whistle to let the driver know when he could proceed.
Several passengers were injured after a parrot living at the Waverly Hotel learned to imitate the conductor’s whistle and the busses would start moving while passengers were still getting on and off. A system of hand signals was developed and used outside the Waverly and a couple of other places around town where other parrots had learned the same trick. Durban eventually had 116 trolley busses, the last trolley bus, a Sunbeam [NDC 2040], left the streets on 11 April 1968.