A fare fight


In the 1910s and ’20s, the bus service between Perth and Fremantle was like going to the Colosseum to watch gladiators in action.

A number of bus companies were competing for the available passengers. Besides being able to steer a bus, drivers had to be tacticians with nerves of steel. There was no timetable, just cutthroat competition.

Buses would race like mad, sometimes two abreast, in order to arrive first at a bus stop. It was not unknown for two drivers disputing who was where first to leave their seats and swing wild punches at each other.

At the start of the run—Short Street, Fremantle—drivers fought to get a good position from the off. Often they would take the bus down at 3 a.m. and get a few hours’ sleep on one of the benches. If a driver were not awake on time, however, he would find himself out of position before he had started.

But one thing could bring the bus companies together: the threat of an independent driver trying muscle in on their turf. The companies, while despising each other, were always willing to gang up on an outsider.

One entrepreneur took up a position on the Short Street rank, and was unsurprised to find it quite busy. The bus in front was practically touching his engine, while the one behind him, from a different company, was even closer.

However, this wouldn’t matter since all he had to do was wait until the vehicle in front filled up and left the rank, and then it would be his turn.

However, things did not turn out that way. He remained jammed for hours, until he agreed to leave and never return.

The two companies had agreed to tie up one bus each for the day, simply to eliminate a potential rival.

How lucky we are to live in Perth in 2015 where it is unimaginable that a duopoly could to conspire to price groceries and petrol to squeeze out rivals. Unimaginable, I say.