A double-decker bus sets the tone
Double-decker buses have been a crucial part of the history of most Indian cities, including Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. For many decades since independence, they were the mainstay of the public transport bus system. In Mumbai they made for an exciting ride along the seafront, and across the Marine Drive. Double-decker buses exist in Mumbai even today, albeit in less numbers and on selected routes. Even today they are a common sight in South Mumbai and the Bandra-Kurla Complex. Operated by Bombay Electric Supply and Transport (BEST0, the double-decker buses of Mumbai, have also found a place of pride in Bollywood movies. The highest grossing movie in the 80s, and inspired by the James Bond action thrillers of that time, Shaan featured a BEST double-decker in a cameo role. It acted as a getaway city bus for the leading ladies Parvin Babi and Bindya Goswami after they were chased by the leading actors Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor. Bachchan and Kapoor are denied entry by the ticket issuer who senses that something is amiss. The two follow the bus, a BEST operated Ashok Leyland Titan. They chase the bus on foot, and sing a song to attract the attention of the two ladies. They also chase on a bicycle, and somehow hijack the bus with the two ladies in it! Something, that can happen only in (Bollywood) movies, and drive away into the country side, over a winding road.
Tracing their origin to open deck horse drawn carriages in England, double-deckers appeared in India in 1937 at Travancore (Trivandrum) when the first Routemaster was imported. The same year doubledecker buses started plying in Bombay (Mumbai). In the late 50s, Ashok Motors began supplying the Routemaster double-decker bus in India. In 1953, the Government Coach-building Factory at Chromepet, Chennai, announced a ‘half-decker’, made entirely locally. It was based on the Ashok Leyland ‘Comet’ tractor and a Mahindra Owen trailer chassis. The bus body was built by Bombay-based Jayanand Khira and Company. In the years 1954 and 1955, some 500 Leyland Titans were commissioned. In 1958, Uttar Pradesh Roadways ordered 65 Comet double-decker buses to add to their existing fleet. BEST placed an order for 20 Comets. Ahmedabad Municipal Transport Service placed a repeat order for 15 Comets, and the Madras Government Transport placed an order for 10 Comets with bodies to be built by them. The front-engine Titan double-deckers arrived in 1967, and began their journey alongside the Comet semi-trailer articulated double-deckers. Both were seen plying in Mumbai right up till the late 70s. The articulated doubledeckers were quietly decommissioned sometime in the mid-to-late 70s. The Titan was built over a rigid chassis unlike the Comet articulated doubledecker bus, and boasted of 50 per cent localisation. It could seat 58 passengers.