One Small Step for a Portsmouth Passenger

One Small Step for a Portsmouth Passenger

A submission a short time ago referred to a Halifax Corporation single decker which was delivered with a front entrance and centre exit. It was a Leyland Leopard L1 with a Weymann B34D body. The contributor and several others commented that this was unusual at the batch’s time of delivery, and that later conversion to front entrance only took place.

In the early 1950s, a few municipal operators experimented with dual entrance / exit underfloor engined saloons, although the entrance was at the extreme rear, and the exit at the front beside the driver. They were fitted out in what was described at the time as “standee saloons”, and if I recall correctly, a conductor was still employed, although he sat by the rear entrance to take fares as passengers boarded, rather than roaming through the saloon. I am thinking of Swindon and Southampton as examples. The experiments in these two cities and elsewhere were not considered successful, and the saloons were re-seated and used in a more traditional format. I am deliberately passing over the finer details in order to move on to a later development.

In 1957, Reading Corporation pioneered a rather different concept. They bought a batch of AEC Reliances, fitted with attractive Burlingham bodies. These had a front entrance and a centre exit and were clearly marked as “Pay as You Enter” at the front, and “Exit Only” at the centre. They seated 34, and were licensed to carry 26 standees. 32 saloons to this design (some with bodies by other manufacturers) entered service between 1957 and 1965. Later developments included a variation on Bristol RELL chassis. These were used by Reading Corporation to introduce one-man working on a variety of bus routes.

But move to the south coast in 1959, and to Portsmouth. Here, the Corporation had received a report which recommended the conversion of it’s trolley-bus system to motor-bus operation. Where other operators were converting trolley-bus routes with motor buses (for example at Hastings with the “new fangled” Leyland Atlantean), Portsmouth chose to do so initially with single deckers. Someone in Portsmouth must have paid a visit to Reading, or “knew someone who knew someone”. Portsmouth ordered ten Leyland Tiger Cubs, with Weymann bodywork, and with front entrance and centre exit in the same style as those at Reading. These too seated 34, with standing room for 26.

These were delivered in October 1959, but remained unused until April 1960, as the Corporation had to negotiate with the local Union regarding driver’s pay and conditions. If I remember correctly, a national agreement was drawn up soon after this, so the Portsmouth agreement may have had an influence in pioneering that.

There were further unusual matters. When these ten entered service, some did so in actually replacing a trolley-bus service. At the time, this caused some comment in the bus fraternity. The chosen route was the 15/16, Alexandra Park to Eastney. It was a late-comer, only starting in 1953. Before then, it had been motor bus route E/F, often using older stock like EEC-bodied Leyland TD1s and TD2s. Others of the 10 new saloons were used to bring a local Cosham route to one-man operation, this being J/K (Highbury-Wymering). Later this became known as route 23/24.

Soon after the Tiger Cubs entered service, there were complaints that there was no room for pushchairs, etc. As a result, the batch had a front pair of seats removed, and rails fitted to provide luggage space just behind the entrance door. They thus became B32D+26. Even so, they carried more passengers than the 52-seat trolley-buses (also licensed for 8 standees) or the older double-deckers they replaced on the J/K route (52-seat Cravens-bodied TD4s).

An elderly aunt of mine was among the vocal complainers. “They’re cattle trucks, that’s what they are, cattle trucks!” she exclaimed loudly, partly playing to my ear as a young bus enthusiast. With their rather high domed roofs internally, and awkward entrance steps, they could certainly rattle around, unlike the more comfortable and stately progress of the Cravens bodied AEC trolley-buses they replaced.

Two batches of similar saloons followed, on Leyland Leopard L1 chassis, also with Weymann bodies. Inside, they seated 41, and could take 16 standees. The centre exit was moved one bay forward compared with the Tiger Cubs. Also, the Tiger Cubs’ emergency exit was in the rear panel showing a three-windowed look, while the Leopards had the emergency exit in the rear off-side corner, so that the rear window was one piece.

Not only did Portsmouth pioneer the use of PAYE saloons for trolley-bus conversion (some other route conversions followed in the period 1960-1963), there was also an unusual feature at the exit doors. As far as I am aware, this was unique to Portsmouth, and was not fitted to the vehicles at Reading before then, or to vehicles supplied to any other operator afterwards.

This was what was known locally as the “step down” exit. In common with most if not all under-floor engined saloons of this era, it required two steps to enter or exit the vehicles. At the exit, there were internal signs which read “step down to exit”. It was intended that the alighting passenger step down from the main floor to the next step as the bus approached the desired stop. This step “wobbled” a bit. Under that step was a sensor which detected a standing passenger. The exit doors opened, and the passenger(s) could then move out into the wider world. This was done in order to relieve the driver of giving attention to the exit door, in order to concentrate on taking fares from boarding passengers. A few moments after the last passenger had alighted, the centre doors automatically closed, thus relieving the driver of that responsibility, and preventing ingress by passengers wishing to avoid paying the driver.

When the Tiger Cubs first entered service, the centre exit door opened as soon as a passenger stepped down, even if the bus was still moving! This was soon (within weeks, I think) remedied, so that the doors only opened after the bus had stopped, thus increasing safety significantly.

Visitors to Portsmouth and Southsea in holiday times could be quite fazed by this arrangement. As the bus pulled up to the desired stop, they would stand on the main floor by the exit waiting for the driver to open the door, like he did “back home”. Local people then began to call out “step down!” and when the tourist got the message and took that great step, the doors whizzed open either side of their face, giving them a true Southsea breeze!.

This equipment was fitted to all dual entrance / exit buses supplied to the Corporation for some years. The initial vehicles were as follows –

16-25    Leyland Tiger Cub / Weymann B34D+26 (later B32D+26) 1959
131-142 Leyland Leopard L1 / Weymann B42D+16 1961
143-149 Leyland Leopard L1 / Weymann B42D+16 1963

Fifty-four Atlantean PDR1/1s with MCCW bodies followed 1963-1966, but these were crew operated front entrance vehicles, though some became one-man operated near the end of their lives. They did not gain a centre exit on conversion to O-M-O however.

By 1963 the trolley-buses had gone, and in 1967 the Corporation decided to follow some other corporations in converting double-deck routes to one man saloon working. The next saloon batches also had the “step-down” exits as described above. Two Leyland Panther Cubs (one from Manchester and one from Sunderland) visited on demonstration, but may not have been used in service. As Portsmouth contained narrow streets and tight turns, it was felt that the Panther Cub would be of suitable dimensions.

150-161 Leyland Panther Cub / Marshall B42D 1967
162-175 Leyland Panther Cub / MCW B42D 1967
176-187 AEC Swift / Marshall B42D 1969
188-199 Leyland Atlantean PDR2/1 / Seddon B40D 1971/72

Note the switch from the Panther Cub to the AEC, although this manufacturer was in the Leyland group by this date. The final saloon delivery used the double-deck Atlantean chassis in it’s longer PDR2/1 form, with the unusual choice of Seddon for the bodywork. After a few years, these certainly rattled around a bit! But I remember these vehicles very favourably – they had a great deal of “oomph!” in service. I always enjoyed a ride on one. It was also noteworthy that after the “MAP” process was carried out c. 1980/81 in Portsmouth, many saloons were sold (including the surviving Panther Cubs and all the Swifts), but the Atlantean saloons were retained, in favour of disposing of the five-years newer Leyland Nationals.

By this time, the one man operation of double-deckers had been legalised, and the next buses ordered were indeed double-deckers. Unlike the previous Atlanteans, these were designed for one-man operation, with front entrance and centre exit. And, in order to be consistent, these too had the “step-down” exit. The Atlantean now came in the AN68 form, and Portsmouth took delivery of 65 between 1972 and 1975. All of these had Alexander bodywork of attractive peak-roofed appearance. Their livery had more white than their predecessors’ original livery, but this suited them. They appeared as –

255-272 Leyland AN68/1R / Alexander H45/30D 1972
273-293 Leyland AN68/1R / Alexander H45/30D 1973
294-301 Leyland AN68/1R / Alexander H45/30D 1975
302-319 Leyland AN68/1R / Alexander H45/30D 1975

It was then felt that a few more saloons were needed. The market had changed however, and Leyland was only promoting the very standardised “National”. Fourteen were supplied in 1976 (Nos 101-114), and were of the 10351/2R version with B38D bodies. However, these were the first dual entrance/exit buses supplied to the Corporation without the "step-down” exit! The writing was on the wall! Presumably, the National specification could not be altered to include this feature. A couple of years passed without any new incoming stock. In 1978/79, more Atlanteans were delivered. They looked similar to the earlier AN68s with Alexander bodywork, although the seating was now H45/28D. They were also to the amended AN68A/1R specification. But the other important feature is that they, unlike their 65 cousins, did not have the step-down exit. The driver now had to take full responsibility for the opening and closing of the exit doors, and prevention of “sneak free rides” via the centre exit.

The end came in 1980. A final batch of Atlantean AN68A/1Rs arrived (10 in total), which differed in being bodied by East Lancs. They were to H46/27D configuration, and also did not have a step down exit. An article in “The News”, the local Portsmouth paper, in 1980 stated that the Corporation would be phasing out the “step-down” exits on all of it’s vehicles. By that date, the original Tiger Cubs and Leopards had been sold on, as had some of the Panther Cubs. It was reckoned that the equipment had become too expensive to maintain. It could also be speculated that drivers on the Alexander-bodied Atlanteans would not necessarily be aware which variant they were driving as far as door exit steps were concerned, leading to confusion and delays.

Thus ended a unique feature of Portsmouth operations, which had been part of the local scene for twenty years. I have never heard that this was a feature included in any other operator’s specification, or whether any other company was interested in it. There’s no record of a Portsmouth bus being hired elsewhere to try out the system.

I do not know who thought of this idea back in 1959. The manager at that time was H C Simmonds, and as suggested earlier, he may looked to his Reading counterpart John Evans for ideas on the general layout for the initial vehicles. Was the step-down exit Simmonds own idea? Or did the supplier of the equipment approach Portsmouth in order to sell the concept? May be the truth is “out there somewhere”. But for twenty years it was “one small step for a Portsmouth passenger”, but not a giant leap for all mankind!


Michael Hampton

21/01/12 - 06:12

A very interesting article covering aspects I have not seen dealt with before.
Many continental trams use a similar practice, which as far as I can tell was introduced when seated conductors were dispensed with. I use Vienna as an example as I am most familiar with that system.
There, doors are activated by a push button which can be pressed before the tram stops. The doors open and remain open if an obstruction is detected - I think there's just a photo-electric cell used but there may be a step treadle as well. The doors close automatically (and after only a few seconds). When all doors are closed, on the older trams at least, there is a quiet 'ting' in the cab which is one of the sounds you remember travelling on those trams.

David Beilby

07/05/13 - 18:07

Following on from Michael Hampton's article, I have just returned from Vienna where I sampled their excellent integrated transport system. For those who are intested in trams I managed to capture some intesting footage from outside and in of their very varied rolling stock. Some of their machines are quite ancient and still retain hard wooden seating that brought back memories of postwar austerity. My Youtube video is entitled 'Sights and sounds of Vienna'.

John Barringer



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