Posted by: travelrat | November 25, 2018

On the Bus … (or In the Bus???)

Throughout our journeys on India’s roads, the observation I made to other week was reinforced. The passenger carrying capacity of any vehicle is, by no means, dictated by the number of seats available. So, it didn’t come as much of a surprise to pass a bus with the passengers riding on the roof.


‘We do that at home’ said a member of our group ‘only, the top decks of our buses have sides and a roof’

They didn’t always have, though. Back in the days of the stage-coach, passengers would ride on the roof … as seen on many a Christmas card, being jolly, and merry, and generally having a good time. The reality was … the top of the coach wasn’t the best of places to be, especially in Winter, and was for ‘economy class’ passengers. If you could afford it, you rode inside, with mufflers, blankets, hot water bottles and a warming pan.

Eventually, along came a coach-builder called George Shillibeer, He produced a boxy, horse-drawn vehicle which could carry a couple of dozen people … with room on top, too. This vehicle, he called an ‘omnibus’ … Latin for ‘for all’

(I can remember signs in rural areas which still read ‘Omnibuses Stop Here On Request’ … and, as late as the 1950s, the abbreviated form was sometimes written as ‘bus.)

Eventually, horses were replaced with the internal combustion engine, but the buses … still with their upper deck and the stairway at the rear were called ‘Shillibeers’


Another hangover from those days was that, even when the upper deck was completely enclosed, it was still sometimes referred to as riding on the ‘outside’ … the ‘inside’ was, of course, the lower deck.

Strictly speaking, the word ‘bus’ should be confined to vehicles with a set route and timetable. I heard of one coach operator who is supposed to have threatened his drivers with dismissal if he heard them referring to their coach as a ‘bus’. The old-fashioned word for this is ‘charabanc’ … from the French char a banc (‘Car with benches’). But, maybe that’s a subject for another post?

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