Tram vs Bus in 1930s Crush

Exiting Cathedral Square, circa late 1920s, early 1930s. [1]

The busiest intersection in the central city heaves under a rush of pedestrians, buses, trams, cyclists and private motor cars, pushing passed each other as they head for various parts of the city.

Whilst most older ladies favour full length encasement in long coats over ankle-length skirts, brimmed hats fixed firmly atop their heads, only one or two in this mass of pedestrians dare to be out without a hat. Striding out into the mass of traffic, a fashionable young women sports a much shorter coat. The late 1920s and ’30s are the first time in European history that the city has seen such an ‘immodest’ amount of leg on display in public.

Low waisted sleeveless dresses and short hemlines were appearing on the frames of fashionable Christchurch women thanks to the popularity of Hollywood silent movies. Petticoats were abandoned and the wearing of ear-rings were regaining favour. It was the era of short shingled and bobbed hair styles for woman, including the manlier ‘Eton Crop’. And, as more and more women were participating in sports, their body shapes were changing too.

After a visit to New Zealand in 1926, Swedish journalist Hjalmar Bengtsson brought on a storm of protest from New Zealand women for criticising them as being sporting, whisky-drinking and cigarette smoking, his accusations aimed in particular at a ‘certain type of jazz girls and picture house girls’ that were to be found in large numbers in Auckland. [2]

Western women were indeed becoming more sporting and as a result had grown taller and their bodies bigger than their ‘sister of forty years ago’, as they grew muscle strength from exercise. Or so claimed an American physical training instructor in 1921. Body strength was no longer the preserve of men. [3]

Long vs Short

Newspapers of the day carried articles expressing concern at the abbreviated nature of women’s fashion – mostly from men. Some cities in the US sought to ‘place a ban on bare knees for women and girls over 11 years of age.’ [4] The Archbishop of Sydney issued a pastoral letter strongly condemning some women’s modes of dress, proclaiming “The devil’s snare is found to be set surely and fatally in the allurements of attire.” [5]. It was an opinion that was shared by the Roman Catholic Church in a papal encyclical which strongly condemned certain forms of women’s dress and certain forms of dancing, claiming “Women appear publicly in apparel form which they would once have shrunk as repugnant to Christian decency.” [6] In late 1923 an epidemic of influenza gripped Paris was being blamed by doctors on “the scanty attire of the present fashion.” [7]

Taking courage from women in setting a fashion of light and comfortable clothing, Christchurch men interested in men’s dress reform formed the ‘Summer Dress Reform League’ in early 1925 seeking “saner and healthier clothing for men.” They made their first order of business to “get rid of the troublesome collar and tie.” championing the wearing of “the canoe open-neck shirt by its members in their business.” [8].

In Christchurch, a writer says: “The battle of the long and the short skirts has assumed a world-wide aspect, and if the present indications are any criterion, the long versus short hair is going to take a lot of debating before it is settled—if ever.” [9]

Big vs Small

Cathedral Square – the transport hub of the city – attracts the majority of pedestrians rushing to catch public transport to the boroughs. Gone from the city streets are the horse drawn hackney cabs of former decades, replaced by private cars and limousine char-a-bancs such as the one pictured above heading to the Clock Tower on Manchester Street operated by the Inter-city Motor Service.

The company began in 1924 as competition to the railway authority. Canterbury being flat with ‘uniformly good roads’ made it a desirable place for motor service companies to operate. Inter-city Motor Service ran the route from Papanui to the Clock Tower via High Street in grey British built “Thorneycroft chassis with a locally-manufactured body and a 40-h.p. English engine.”  They had the only two buses of this make in New Zealand that were fitted with shock-absorbers, and later operated the popular and competitive route from Cathedral Square to North Beach. [10]

Their Clydesdale Safety Limousine Char-a-banc boasted pneumatic tyres and four wheel brakes and took excursions to Ashley Gorge and Pleasant Point; tours of the Port HIlls, Gebbie’s Valley and Governors Bay; and Sunday excursions to Lake Coleridge. For 12s 6d sightseers could join the tour from outside Everybody’s Cinema in Cathedral Square. A tour of the Port Hills would take them through Tai Tapu, Motukarara and Gebbie’s Valley  to Governor’s Bay, with a two hour lunch stop at the hotel before leaving at 3pm for the journey back to the Square via Rapaki, Corsair Bay, Lyttelton and Sumner. [11]

With these new private bus operators providing cheap, comfortable public transport alternatives, patronage of the ‘inadequate’ Tramway Board’s service suffered. The Tram Board claimed to pursue a policy of “encouragement of owners of motor-buses who feel inclined to explore new districts, providing they feed to the trams at the nearest point.” But rivalry still developed with the likes of Inter-City. It came to a head in 1925 when the Tramway Board ran experiments with its own buses on the Papanui route, then transferred them to a St Albans run. [12]

The Tramway Board then completed construction of “two modern limousine charablancs” and put them into service on the New Brighton route, again in direct competition with the Inter-city Motor Service. The new buses boasted a ‘centre aisle’ with the roof raised so passengers could stand upright and a three-step entrance. [13] Inter-City responded by inaugurating the New Brighton Bus Service providing a regular half hourly timetable which started from 8.25am and ran till the last bus from the Square at 11.10pm. [14]

Competition eventually boiled over into open hostility between drivers of the larger Tramway Board and the smaller private Inter-City Motor Service. Inter-City drivers were accused of obstructing traffic, assault and driving in a dangerous manner. In turn, Inter-City claimed that their Clydesdale buses had been sabotaged with carborundum powder and iron spikes driven into the tyres. [15]

The Tramway Board and the Christchurch City Council – along with other regional local bodies – called upon central Government to regulate bus operators and subsequently a number of conferences were convened in 1926 to look into the matter. It had become a serious feud in which the public had also taken sides. A letter to the Press accused the Tramway Board of being ‘un-British’ for trying to protect their monopoly and force up-to-date transport off the streets. [16]

The Prime Minister refused to introduce regulations without considering both sides and so the argument spilled over into 1926 at a national level. Much to the disgust of those who championed private enterprise, regulations were finally put in place that required bus operators who ran in competition with tram services to charge twopence more per fare thereby ensuring the tram versus bus argument continued to rage for several more years. [17]

The Bus Service to New Brighton
BUS SERVICE TO NORTH BEACH.—Three of the buses operated by the Inter-CityMotor Service photographed in Cathedral square yesterday afternoon. The service will be taken over to-day by the Christchurch Tramway Board. [18]

The Inter-City Motor Service – which was based at Blackwell Motors on the corner of Durham and Kilmore streets – ran until they were bought out by their Tramway Board rivals in late 1935 who subsequently “reduced it to a skeleton timetable” resulting in complaints of poor service “considerably below the excellent one given by the Inter-City Motor Service.” [19]


  1. Hocken Snapshop (10th Jul 2012). 0367_01_003A.jpg. In Website Hocken Snapshop. Retrieved 24th Oct 2016 17:06, from
    The Bank Corner image: Christchurch City Libraries, File Reference CCL PhotoCD 4, IMG0053.
  2. A DARING VISITOR, Evening Post, Volume CXI, Issue 34, 9 February 1926.
  3. WORLD OF STRONG MEN. Temuka Leader, Issue 10265, 1 December 1921.
  4. FASHIONS IN AMERICA, Ashburton Guardian, Volume XLI, Issue 9554, 7 July 1921.
    IMMODESTY IN U.S.A.,Press, Volume LVII, Issue 17185, 30 June 1921.
  5. FROCKS AND MORALS.,Ashburton Guardian, Volume XLII, Issue 9380, 8 November 1921.
  6. SUPERVISION OF MORALS., Ashburton Guardian, Volume XLII, Issue 9595, 1 September 1921.
  7. Temuka Leader, Issue 10571, 19 January 1924.
  8. MEN’S DRESS.,Press, Volume LXV, Issue 19536, 5 February 1929
  9. LONG v. SHORT, Evening Post, Volume CIX, Issue 19, 23 January 1930.
  10. TRAMWAY BUSES.,Press, Volume LXI, Issue 18276, 9 January 1925.
     THE MOTOR WORLD.,Otago Daily Times, Issue 19324, 10 November 1924.
  11. Page 21 Advertisements Column 7,Press, Volume LX, Issue 18261, 20 December 1924.
  12. BUS V. TRAM.,Press, Volume LXI, Issue 18289, 24 January 1925.
  13. TRAM V. BUS.,Press, Volume LXI, Issue 18320, 2 March 1925.
  14. BUS v. TRAM.,Press, Volume LXI, Issue 18424, 3 July 1925.
  15. “THE BUS FEUD.”,Press, Volume LXI, Issue 18347, 2 April 1925.
  16. MOTOR-BUS REGULATIONS.,Press, Volume LXII, Issue 18690, 13 May 1926.
  17. “THE BUS FEUD.”,Press, Volume LXI, Issue 18347, 2 April 1925.  BUS V. TRAM.,Press, Volume LXI, Issue 18501, 1 October 1925.   BUS V. TRAM.,Press, Volume LXII, Issue 18613, 11 February 1926.
  18. BUS SERVICE TO NORTH BEACH.—Press, Volume LXXI, Issue 21592, 1 October 1935.
  19. SKELETON BUS SERVICE,Press, Volume LXXII, Issue 21886, 12 September 1936. 

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