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Government Records about the Australian Capital Territory

Buses and cars

Image 25: Bus shelter installation, Erindale, 1990.

Image 25: Bus shelter installation, Erindale, 1990.
ArchivesACT 2013/9244/4
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Canberra's first public bus service was operated by the Department of Works for the benefit of workmen constructing buildings in the new city. Starting in October 1923, the service originated from construction camps and 'tent cities' at Causeway and Pialligo and the railhead at Kingston. Two buses carried people to various building sites in Canberra City and Parkes.385

The first general bus service started in July 1925 when a private operator, Helen Barton, began running buses to Queanbeyan from Ainslie and Eastlake.386 Although a privately owned service linking Canberra with Queanbeyan and Yass survives today, private operations within Canberra were short-lived because the Federal Capital commission started its own service in August 1926. Initially, four buses provided a service between Eastlake and Ainslie, although by 1929 there were 12 buses.387

A transport depot was built at Eastlake (now Kingston) in 1926. The building underwent substantial expansion and refurbishment between 1940 and 1941. The depot closed in 1992, and reopened as the Old Bus Depot Markets in September 1994.

From the beginning, the Federal Capital Commission provided a free bus service for school children, arguing that it was cheaper to provide the service than building more schools closer to Canberra's larger settlements.388

During the early 1950s, bus services were expanded to Narrabundah, Yarralumla and O'Connor. These routes were extended further in the late 1950s with the development of Dickson and Campbell. Most buses served the Kingston and Manuka shopping centres. The first Woden Valley service was introduced in 1963. As other urban centres were completed, services were extended to them. By 1966, there were more than 45 buses in use.

Canberra's first bus interchange at Woden Town Centre opened in December 1972. It was one of the first purpose-built suburban bus terminals in Australia. A second interchange at Belconnen opened in January 1979.

On 14 February 1977, a new system was launched, the ACT Internal Omnibus Network (ACTION), in association with a major program to upgrade the service. This included the purchase of new vehicles, a new range of pre-purchased tickets, passenger facilities such as shelters, and a new bus colour scheme.

In 1981, the Fraser government contemplated selling ACTION. The matter was referred to an interdepartmental committee and, in December 1981, Cabinet approved a recommendation that nothing would be gained from the sale and the service should remain publicly owned.389

In the years prior to self-government, while Cabinet grappled with priority issues such as defence and security, it also dealt with less weighty matters. In June 1973, for example, Cabinet considered a recommendation to increase the cost of Canberra bus fares and finance the upgrade of the service by including a $10 levy on all vehicle registrations. Cabinet decided not to increase fares and not to impose the levy.390 Similarly, in 1985, the Hawke government, while dealing with issues such as the Australia Card and American testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles in the western Pacific Ocean, also grappled with the possibility of air conditioning ACTION buses.391

Today, ACTION is part of the ACT Government's Territory and Municipal Services. It has a fleet of more than 400 buses and provides services throughout Canberra. It currently maintains depots at Woden, Tuggeranong and Belconnen.

In February 2013, the government announced that 77 diesel-powered buses would be added to ACTION's fleet over the next four years.

Bus stops general, 1942–51 A2942, 438
Kingston Bus Depot – extensions NC–65/00126#1
Belconnen Bus Interchange Stage 1 – design and construction NC–75/01511#1
Canberra city omnibus fares T1974/74
Canberra omnibus advertisements (deregistered 3/06/58) A921-F744
Commonwealth motor omnibus fares regulations A3518/1072
Omnibus waiting sheds – general Ainslie omnibus depot drinking water sanitary facilities A3217/448
ACTION (ACT Internal Omnibus Network) 74/1707
Murray Valley Coaches – motor omnibus services - licence number 7 – Albury to Canberra 54/547
Battery electric vehicles 81/01561
Manufacture and erection of shelters at bus stops– design and construction series, 1983–84 NC-83/00189
Manufacture and erection of shelters at bus stops – design and construction series VIII, 1984–85 NC-84/00189
Bus shelters – review of design NC-93/01791#1
Infrastructure Division – bus shelters review of design 89/2333
Provision of concrete bus shelters 90/769
National Archives
City Bus Service general matters, 1925–30 A6266, G1929/3528
Helen Barton's motor bus service, 1925–31 A6266, G1928/3789
City bus service, 1926 A6090, AG17
City bus services, supply of four AEC buses, 1926 A6266, G1926/2305
Correspondence regarding the establishment of bus routes in Canberra, and the provision of transport for officers of the Social Service Association, 1926–28 CP698/9, 63/1
Helen Barton motor bus service, FCT, 1926–31 A1, 1930/6174
Transport, motor bus and motor car service, Canberra, 1926–32 A292, C5426
City bus service general matters,1929–52 A1, 1938/28530
Motor Traffic Ordinance Bus Service, city area and Canberra–Queanbeyan, 1930 A430, G52
Erection of bus shelters, 1931–32 A1, 1931/6489
Canberra Bus Services purchase of buses, 1933–41 A659, 1942/1/698
Bus shelters Canberra, 1934 A2617, section 104/5289
Transport, Canberra bus services, purchase of buses, 1941–44 A659, 1944/1/222

Registration of motor vehicles

The registration of motor vehicles within the Territory, and the issue of driver's licences, began via the Motor Traffic Ordinance 1926. Previously, vehicles were registered within the NSW registration program. Registration plates were blue and white and consisted of a single number with an FCT (Federal Capital Territory) prefix. The legislation stipulated that in order to be registered, vehicles had to be capable of being driven both forwards and in reverse.

The introduction of three letter-three number licence plates, starting with YAA–001, began in 1968.392

Motor vehicle registration files, private, 1936– A1283
Motor vehicle registration files, 'MO' (motor omnibus), 1936– A1634
Correspondence files, 'MOL' (motor omnibus licence), 1936– A1635
Motor vehicle registration files, 'T' (trailers), 1936– A1284
Motor vehicle registration files, 'CY' (cycles), 1936– A1287
Correspondence files, 'MOSL' (motor omnibus service licence), 1936– A1636
Correspondence files, 'D' (trader's licence), 1936– A1637
Motor vehicle registration files, 'MT' (motor tractors), 1936–64 A1285
Motor vehicle registration files, 'DC', (diplomatic corps), 1943– A1286
Motor vehicle files, 'C' (Commonwealth), 1961– A1947
Motor vehicle files, 'Z' (Commonwealth), 1961– A1948
Motor vehicle files, 'C' (Ministerial), 1961– A1949
Daily transactions of licensing and motor vehicle registrations, 1962– A1402


Chapter notes | All notes

385 Historical notes on Canberra's bus service were taken from 'The History of Public Transport in the ACT',, accessed 3 January 2013.

386 Daily Telegraph, 10 May 1927, p. 3.

387 Federal Capital Commission Annual Report, p. 34, Parliamentary Papers, 1929–31, volume 3, pp. 2915–3008.

388 Federal Capital Commission Annual Report, p. 19; Parliamentary Papers, 1926–28, volume 2, pp. 1185–306.

389 NAA: A12909, 5196, 4 December 1981.

390 NAA: A5915, 406, June 1973.

391 NAA: A14039, 2313, 1 March 1985.

392 The Canberra Times, 13 October 1967, p. 1.


Chapter 14
Transportation: trains, planes, buses and cars