A visionary road to growth and prosperity

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 April, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 April, 1999, 12:00am

Sixty-six years ago today, the Kowloon Motor Bus Company launched a public transport service that linked the company with Hong Kong's social and economic development.

From simple beginnings, KMB has transformed itself into the world's largest privately-owned bus company operating in a single city.

Every day, more than 10 million passenger trips are made on various transport modes; three million of them on KMB buses. This makes the company the largest people mover in the SAR.

On April 13, 1933, the single deck buses, which took to the recently surfaced roads of Kowloon and the New Territories, were the result of the vision of five Hong Kong businessmen.

A month before Christmas in 1932, Tang Shiu-kin, William Louey Sui-tak, Lui Leung, Tam Woon-tong and Lam Ming-fan decided to tender for a franchise to operate bus services in Kowloon and the New Territories.

In January 1933, permission was granted and, four months later, the Kowloon Motor Bus Company was born. It began operating with a fleet of 106 single-deck vehicles.

By 1941, the fleet had grown to 140 buses.

Passengers on the 17 routes had the choice of paying 10 cents and travelling first class on the front few rows, which were fitted with cushions, or in second class for five cents less.

A driver was paid $1.50 a day, an inspector $1 and a conductor 80 cents. At the beginning of a shift, each conductor was issued with 40 five-cent coins for change. Fares were five cents a section.

At the end of the day, the fares were handed in to head office. The coins were put on a wooden board indented to hold 100 five-cent coins. The board was shaken until the coins filled all the holes - a far cry from today's world of smart cards.

The company grew and prospered only to see operations brought to a standstill by the Japanese occupation during World War II. By the time of the surrender in 1945 only two of the 140 buses were serviceable. The others had been dispersed or de stroyed. One of the first orders issued by the British Military Authority was for KMB to resume operations.

Undaunted by the challenges it faced, KMB set about rebuilding its fleet. Lorries were bought or hired and quickly converted into buses.

Hong Kong's population increased during the late 1940s and early 1950s be cause of the influx of refugees from the mainland.

To meet the demands of an increasing population, KMB, in 1949, introduced its first double-decker - a Daimler 'A'.

The company continued to expand and, in 1972, with the opening of the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, services were extended to Hong Kong Island. The same year, a major change in operating procedures was initiated when the one-man operation was introduced.

With a 'fare box' at the entrance, a bus captain became the sole operator of the bus. Conductors were trained to become drivers.

In 1977, another change took place when the Mass Transit Railway opened. Although passenger flow was re duced on some bus services, the need for special feeder services soon led to new routes.

The company entered a new era in 1996 when the Long Win Bus Company was granted a franchise by the Government to operate a network of 15 routes to the new airport and neighbouring North Lantau/Tung Chung area.