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The Rise And Fall Of The Pirate Bus

Matt Crisp October 26, 2023

It is easier, faster and more luxurious to hire a coach now than it ever has been before, and that is a credit to a wealth of advances over the past few centuries, highly skilled drivers and changes to how coaches and buses are used.

Amazingly enough, during the early days of the bus and coach infrastructure in the UK, these vital foundations were not necessarily a guarantee, and this novelty gave unscrupulous individuals the chance to trick members of the public through the use of unregulated pirate buses.

Whilst there was a standard bus service in the form of the London General Omnibus Company, at the time, any pair of driver and conductor who had a bus to drive could set up shop and pick up fares however they saw fit.

The only rule was that there had to be a sign in the bus that showed the fares to customers. However the law didn’t say it had to be easy to read, and these factors led to the genesis of a blight that caught out many busy passengers.

A typical scam would involve a driver, a conductor and a bus that was painted to look like LGOC, a passenger would step on thinking it was the standard bus, only to find that the fare was significantly higher than they expected.

According to the law of the time, they had legally started their journey once they had stepped on the bus and could be charged with trying to dodge the fare.

Ultimately, this ended after a William Saunders, infuriated that he had been duped, started to warn other people from getting the bus, which led to a police constable intervening.

It turned out that Mr Saunders was the MP for Walworth, and after threatening to refer the matter to Scotland Yard, the constable left, freeing the MP to warn people away from the bus.

They lasted until 1924 when the “pirate bus crisis” led to greater regulation on which buses and coaches could operate.